A gun industry lobby group backed by five of the largest Australian firearms wholesalers has declared its intention to intervene in state and federal elections to hold governments “accountable for the decisions they make”.
The Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA)’s corporate members have bankrolled its activities with more than $1.2 million since late 2014.
Its members are directors of local firms Nioa — which calls itself Australia’s largest privately-owned supplier of small arms and ammunition — Raytrade, Outdoor Sporting Agencies and the Australian offshoots of international gun manufacturers Winchester and Beretta.
SIFA is leading a fresh bid to lobby governments over gun laws, 22 years after the Port Arthur massacre which saw the states and territories sign up to the National Firearms Agreement.
It has sponsored “shooting days” for federal politicians and donated tens of thousands of dollars to firearms-friendly political parties.
SIFA spokeswoman Laura Patterson told the ABC’s Four Corners program that the organisation would consider getting involved in future elections, after doing so in Queensland last year.
“If the circumstances came up in any jurisdiction in this country where we felt that a communications campaign in parallel with a political election cycle was appropriate, then we would make that decision on any given day, given the circumstances,” she said.
“We’re looking to enter a new era of engagement. We want it to be open. We want people to understand who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing.
“We want governments to be held accountable for the decisions they make.”
On Saturday SIFA backed a fresh campaign ahead of the November 24 Victorian state election.
The “Not Happy Dan” campaign urges voters to “put Labor last”.
In a media release SIFA said the decision was based on research it had commissioned into issues such as access to public lands, crime, energy costs, skills and jobs shortages.
SIFA behind Queensland ‘Flick em’ campaign
SIFA contributed $220,000 to a $555,460 political campaign called “Flick em” during last year’s Queensland election aimed at forcing a hung parliament by urging voters to place the major parties last.
Among the likely beneficiaries of the campaign were One Nation and Katter’s Australian Party, whose federal leader, Bob Katter, is the father-in-law of Nioa’s owner, Robert Nioa.
Ms Patterson said it was aiming for “a good quality crossbench, and we were aiming for a government which couldn’t be formed by majority.”
One of SIFA’s goals was to push for discussions about the re-categorisation of some firearms, including the controversial Adler lever action shotgun the Queensland Government had recently made harder to acquire.
Mr Nioa’s company imports the Adler shotgun into Australia for sale.
SIFA was also part of a firearms consultative committee convened by the Tasmanian Liberal government before the state election in March to come up with a new gun policy.
When the policy was leaked on election eve it caused outrage.
It proposed laws to give better access to high-powered guns to sporting shooters, to double the firearm licence period to 10 years, and allow some shooters access to silencers.
Gun control groups accused the Tasmanian Government of breaching the National Firearms Agreement struck between states and territories after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
The outcry forced the Government to dump the policy after the election.
Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, who as part of the Howard government was an architect of the 1996 firearms agreement, told Four Corners he was concerned about gun industry lobbying.
“There is a muscling up by those making money out of a trade of guns into this country, and we need to watch that very closely lest it lead Australia and the state and territory parliaments, legislatures, and at the federal level, down the wrong path,” Mr Fischer said.
Big Guns: Four Corners
Watch Big Guns on Four Corners tonight at 8.30pm on ABC TV and ABC iview.