Farmers fear for their livelihoods

New WA firearm laws a very real concern, writes Rachael Oxborrow

Changes to Western Australian firearms licensing could leave the state’s farmers high and dry when it comes to managing pest animals and earning a living. David Hamilton and his family farm in Moora, two hours north of Perth, with their operation spanning 6500 hectares where they run more than 20,000 Merino and crossbred sheep and plant in excess of 1000 hectares of crops.

In any given year David’s family would have 40 recreational hunters help control cats, foxes and bird populations, in addition to the work he and his family and staff do to remove feral animals from their property. He sources recreational shooters from members of the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia’s WA target shooting ranges, knowing they’re appropriately licensed and have mutual respect for his operation.

“The value of their support is so important, we have groups visiting throughout the year so there’s regular control and they often return year-on-year. They give me the security and peace of mind that they understand my property and as a SSAA (WA) club member receive basic safety training and you know they’re insured and accountable,” said David.

As we went to print, the WA Government was preparing to release a rewrite of the state’s Firearms Act for public comment after roughly two years of work. Narrative from the government during this time suggests permission to hunt on properties will be greatly limited, as will the number of firearms a person can own based on the genuine reason for use on their licence. This was recently confirmed through Freedom of Information documents obtained by the WA Firearms Community Alliance Initiative (WAFCA) representing SSAA (WA) and other firearms interest groups on behalf of all firearm owners.

“Pest control is a constant problem for us and the reality is not everyone is available to travel and hunt at short notice or as regularly as we need them to make an impact,” said David. “We virtually have to run a roster of recreational hunters helping us fulfil our pest control responsibilities as landowners. We must also manage a greater welfare issue during lambing season where sheep are laying down to give birth. Foxes are aggressive and will eat a sheep alive if we don’t get there in time. It’s relentless.”

Limiting the number of firearms and people with permission to hunt recreationally on properties based on size, location and geography would have detrimental effects on the environment, WA’s agricultural sector and the wellbeing of those living on the land who are left with an insurmountable task. It also doesn’t account for other variables such as ammunition and hunter availability. According to David, lack of shot ammunition availability has meant he’s had to buy another firearm and ammunition specifically for pigeon control.

“The people writing the legislation have an arbitrary number in their head and no appreciation for the similarities of whether you have 2000 or 20,000 acres to manage,” said David. “On any property regardless of size, you might have four different environments in one location which can have different pest animal problems and require different firearms and shooters to carry out the task.”

Restricting permission for recreational hunters to operate on private land and enforcing firearm number limits based on licence type are just some of the measures the WA Government is expected to bring about with the rewrite of the WA Firearms Act. Earlier this year, the government announced mandatory mental health checks for firearm licence holders and enforced the confiscation of 250 high-calibre firearms often used for long range target shooting, collecting and large animal control.

The WAFCA team with representatives from key target shooting, hunting and firearms interest groups, will be educating and encouraging the wider 90,000 firearm owners in WA to participate in the public consultation process expected to be announced in the short-term.

SSAA (WA) President and WAFCA spokesperson Paul Fitzgerald has been instrumental in driving this group to unite the state’s firearms community and demand meetings with the government. “This is a critical time for our community where if we don’t make a stand and use our voices as individuals the opportunity will be lost,” he said. “We’ve been knocking on doors, making phone calls, talking to media and politicians for the past two years about this rewrite and now’s the time for all of us to speak up and back our associations and WAFCA.”

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