Paid-up SSAA life member Ian Goodenough, Liberal MP for Moore in WA, was guest speaker at the Association’s National AGM in Perth. Below is the speech Ian gave to delegates and guests at the Pan Pacific Hotel on Saturday, May 4.
It is indeed an honour to be asked to address the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia Annual Dinner, as I am proudly a paid-up Life Member of our Association. May I start by acknowledging National President Geoff Jones, members of the SSAA National Executive and greater committee, life member Tony Warner, CEO Tim Bannister and his staff and representatives from all states. A very warm welcome to Western Australia.
As a lifelong shooting enthusiast I thought I’d share with you a snapshot of my experiences and how the SSAA has played an important role in my journey as a competitive and recreational shooter. I’ll make some observations of shooting in the current political climate and conclude by suggesting ways in which we may continue to promote and develop our sport. I pay tribute to the SSAA for the important advocacy role it plays in Australia for approximately 180,000 members competing in some 18 different shooting disciplines.
I’m privileged to represent the electorate of Moore, based in Perth’s northern coastal suburbs centred around the City of Joondalup, in the House of Representatives in Federal Parliament. Following my election in 2013, I was one of the founding members of Parliamentary Friends of Shooting in Federal Parliament, along with my colleague, Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie, who has risen to become Deputy Leader of the National Party. It’s a bi-partisan group and I’m pleased to say a number of Labor members including Anthony Byrne, Joel Fitzgibbon and Rob Mitchell have joined. Our parliamentary friendship group aims to raise the profile of shooting among our national decision-makers through regular events with our Olympians and Commonwealth Games athletes as guest speakers, shooting days at the range and positive promotion of our sport.
Anecdotally, many of our decision-makers, our legislators, have had little or no experience with firearms and many have either not encountered firearms or have unpleasant childhood memories of the severe recoil of a firearm fired on a family farm decades ago. Worse still is a perception of firearms gained from Hollywood movies and fictional stereotypes. These are our decision-makers who we need to educate in the varied aspects of shooting, and through Parliamentary Friends of Shooting we’ve enabled many politicians to attend and experience the competitive and organised sporting aspects of shooting.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had an interest in shooting and firearms. My earliest memories are of seeing a glass showcase of medals, old photos and trophies belonging to an old gentleman called Mr Pereau who was my mother’s friend’s father and had represented Singapore in the ASEAN Games. I was fascinated by the contents of the showcase and old Mr Pereau told me he had to give up shooting when the government made firearm ownership too onerous and the price of ammunition had risen to over a dollar a round, which was expensive in the early 1980s.
I continued to read up and learn about firearms from these fabulous American picture books from the early 1980s, which I still have in my collection. When I was eight I had to accompany my parents to the Australian High Commission for our migration interview, and the immigration officer asked if I was excited to be going to live in Australia and if I could point out where in Australia we were going to live and what I was looking forward to doing there. I correctly pointed out Perth on the big map on the wall and told her the first thing I was going to do was to buy a rifle and maybe a shotgun. My mother was horrified!
It wasn’t until I was 11 I started shooting with an air rifle I received for Christmas. By the age of 13 I was starting to win inter-club shooting competitions at the local Police and Citizen’s Youth Club PCYC and at 16 I joined the West Australian Gun Club and took part in clay target shooting. I later bought rifles which I use in the field, including visits to farms and cattle stations, and took up pistol shooting and regularly attend club shoots at the range.
Shooting is part of a balanced lifestyle which includes outdoor pursuits such as fishing, four-wheel driving and camping and we need to engage with our community by demonstrating it’s a safe, worthwhile and legitimate pastime the family can enjoy - a competitive sport as well as a means of enjoying the environment by putting food on our tables. I try to make time for shooting at least once a fortnight.
I learned most of my shooting skills from the older generation, from gentlemen such as my club coach Tony Yozzi and the late Dr Leo Laden and this transfer of knowledge is invaluable. Going forward, new shooters will need a network of mentors to help them become involved in shooting, maintaining their firearms, reloading. I believe the SSAA and firearms dealers of the future will have to cultivate a network of mentors to ensure these skills are transferred to the next generation.
Social media is a valuable resource for sharing knowledge on the technical aspects of shooting and can also be used effectively to engage and educate prospective new members and shooters about our sport. From experience it has been a little difficult to find out about joining a club or trying a new shooting discipline - in the past it involved looking up the phone book and getting an answering machine. But with the advent of the internet and websites it’s much easier now for clubs to provide information about open days at the range and how to contact club coaches. Dealers will transition from simply selling equipment to offering coaching services as a package, so new shooters are inducted to the sport. It’s important for new shooters to keep taking up the sport to replace the ageing generation in order that our numbers grow and shooting is sustainable financially.
We should encourage members to leave old copies of Australian Shooter in waiting rooms around the country so new people may read the articles and develop an awareness of the shooting sports. We need our members to invite at least one friend from time to time to try shooting at their local club and with any luck they’ll enjoy the experience and take up the sport - it takes multiple visits to catch the bug and become hooked, so perseverance is key.
We must make it clear that licensing authorities should place more emphasis on the suitability of the shooter to own firearms and less emphasis on the technical attributes of the firearm. There has been too much focus on the technical attributes of firearms themselves and insufficient focus on the suitability of the owner in the first instance. I’m an advocate for reforms which place greater emphasis on licensing the firearms owner with more stringent background checks, safety training and in-person interviews. This would be coupled with a comprehensive firearm registration system which registers individual firearms to suitably licensed owners for accountability and traceability.
At present, too much emphasis is placed on the characteristics of the firearm itself and not on the suitability of the owner. Some ill-conceived arbitrary measures are in place, such as limiting the calibre of handguns to .38, specifying the minimal barrel lengths and limiting magazine capacities but these measures have practically no effect in improving public safety. For instance, a .38 Super is ballistically superior to a .45 ACP, yet the .38 is permitted and the .45 restricted. This is akin to an attempt to improve road safety by banning all vehicles capable of exceeding 200kms per hour and limiting the capacity of vehicle's fuel tanks when it’s obvious that it’s the competence of the driver and not the characteristics of the car that affects road safety.
In addition, the current practice of online applications for firearm licences through Australia Post with no face-to-face contact also presents the risk of identify fraud. In the past, applicants were required to attend in person at the police station closest to their home and were interviewed face-to-face by a police officer who had the chance to assess, to a large extent, if an applicant was bona fide and competent. I support measures to make the licensing of firearm owners more robust and thorough, however the system needs to be efficient and timely when catering to the needs of existing shooters.
We need to be engaged to properly educate the bureaucrats who make policy for our politicians of all persuasions. Through being engaged and organised we can have a seat at the table every time legislation affecting our sport is introduced. The risk is always there that an incident will occur and the reaction will be disproportionate or ill conceived. We need to pre-empt any event and ensure we’re in a position to advocate for the rights of law-abiding citizens to continue enjoying their sport.
Our shared duty is to ensure the SSAA remains a well-resourced and represented organisation with the administrative capability to represent us. Since the tragic events of Christchurch, politicians have been told by media advisers to avoid anything to do with firearms or shooting.
I was advised not to be here this evening. The future of our sport must not hang in the balance of the next incident or crisis of public safety. We need to be prepared, to have a plan and a strategy to address our critics before the next incident or crisis arises.
The SSAA needs to continue working with government to ensure there’s adequate funding and resourcing of the shooting sports at a Commonwealth Games and Olympic Level and in recognised international competitions. Perth’s northern suburbs are fortunate to have some very good facilities for shooting disciplines. The challenge for sports administrators is to apply for funding grants and raise sufficient funds from the private sector to improve the facilities and improve access by sealing limestone roads and providing comfortable clubhouse amenities including food and beverage options for visitors and family members to spend time at the range. It’s much easier to promote sport with easy access and good social infrastructure.
Fortunately, a number of Australian athletes have been successful at the Commonwealth Games and Olympics by winning medals and it’s the positive publicity and celebrity which this generates for our sport that’s useful. Although they’re not household names, our medal winners help promote the legitimacy of shooting as a sport and we must understand that not all sporting shooters are Olympians and Commonwealth Games medallists.
Clubs across Australia should be encouraged to regularly contact their federal, state and local members of all political parties and invite them to attend open days and presentation ceremonies multiple times a year. Take time to host the elected representative at a shooting day and be persistent if they don’t accept the first invitation as they’re busy people. Many decisions regarding firearms policy are made out of ignorance, without basic knowledge of reality, so it’s helpful to maintain good relationships and engagement with local politicians.
Many people will attend a club or range once, like the sport, but never take it up due to the high barriers to entry and licencing regimes. It’s important to facilitate multiple repeat visits to the club and follow up to ensure that person’s showing and interest act on their initial interest and take up the sport. We need to use the media and social media to promote positive articles and coverage of shooting competitions and human interest stories of young people, women, and diverse individuals training and achieving results for Australia. We must avoid the negative stereotypes of camouflage, assault weapons and violence portrayed by Hollywood and showcase shooting as a family-friendly, safe and sophisticated sport that’s highly desirable to participate it.
As a sport we must raise public awareness of our shooting disciplines and encourage more people to join the SSAA and take up shooting. That will ensure the long-term sustainability of our sport and sufficient public support out there in times of crisis. The threat of an unfortunate incident leading to stricter gun controls being implemented, as a knee-jerk reaction, is very real and we must be prepared for the scenario that a terrorist could use a conventional firearm to cause an incident, leading to calls for currently available firearms to be restricted.
In concluding, I commit to making myself available to visit SSAA affiliated clubs across Australia and playing my part to assist in the promotion of the association and its objectives in Federal Parliament, to ensure legislation is fair and beneficial and that sufficient funding is secured to develop the shooting sports which we all enjoy. I thank the SSAA for its support of me and hope I can serve the organisation as an effective representative.