On February 11, around 65 politicians and their staffers gathered under the backdrop of Mural Hall in Parliament House, Canberra, to mingle with representatives from the firearms industry for a night of information sharing and open discussion about the shooting sports. The following is a copy of SSAA National President Geoff Jones’ keynote speech on behalf of the Association.
A warm welcome to you, our parliamentarians, staffers, friends and fellow colleagues from the firearms industry. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you tonight about a sport and industry that we, as the largest representative body for the shooting sports, are very passionate about.
Many of you may not know a lot about the shooting sports, or the environmental and hunting control activities associated with our industry. I’d like to talk briefly about this from the perspective of the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia, the SSAA, an association with nearly 70 years of success in responsibly representing and promoting the shooting sports, and one I am very proud to represent tonight.
The SSAA, as mentioned, is the largest membership organisation representing sporting shooters and licenced firearm owners in Australia. At last count, the Association had almost 170,000 members nationwide and at least 350 SSAA sports shooting clubs across the states and territories. We cater for the occasional shooter who just uses the club facilities to ‘sight-in’ or prepare their firearm before a hunting trip, to the serious elite competitor who wants to go ‘all the way’, such as our well-known pistol competitors Richard Siebert and Cherie Blake. Richard and Cherie have both successfully competed internationally for Australia in our Action Match pistol discipline. They are proud SSAA members and excellent advocates for the shooting sports.
We also have in this very room tonight two competitive shooters who boast a substantial history of success at the Olympic and international level. Russell and Lauryn Mark have proudly represented Australia in the sport of clay target shooting, and demonstrate the many achievements that the shooting sports can bring when commitment and talent combine.
Beyond our clubs and competitive shooting, the SSAA and our members play essential roles in removing – culling – unwanted feral and pest animals that cause millions of dollars in damage annually to our environment and the livelihoods of our farmers. Through our conservation and wildlife management activities, our members ensure the protection of many native species, such as the yellow-footed rock-wallaby, bridled nailtail wallaby, bilby, yellow chat, tinker frog and western quoll by removing feral animals that compete for their food source or prey on the rare species. We have even dedicated over 1000 hectares at one of our shooting range properties in my home state of Queensland and in partnership with the state government, to re-establish habitat and house displaced koalas whose habitat has diminished over time.
Those that know nothing about hunting or shooting may jump to the conclusion that it is inappropriate, when, in fact, hunting and the environment work hand in glove. It is often the hunter who puts more money, volunteer hours and effort into environmental protection than those armchair greenies who sip lattes and frequent energy hungry office buildings in central Melbourne, or display a picture of the Tasmanian rainforest in their air-conditioned suburban living room.
The SSAA itself has been nationally recognised for our members’ contributions to the control of feral and pest animals, both in national parks and on pastoral lands throughout Australia. Through substantial financial commitments and manpower, we have contributed to the cause of conservation, along with partnering with universities, research scientists and government departments to ensure our efforts in wildlife management are backed by sound science. It came as no surprise to us to find that hunters in Victoria alone contribute a massive $439 million per year to the economy.
As well, we are currently conducting a national program, SSAA Farmer Assist, that connects our able members with farmers in need of assistance with pest control activities. These are a number of the ways we are working together with key stakeholders to be part of the solution for effective, responsible and sustainable wildlife management. Conservation is an integral part of the psyche of the Australian hunter. We shared this message through a public awareness campaign in recent years, depicting the cunning fox tucking in to a native bird for dinner. Another campaign celebrating the Year of the Hunter further highlighted the role everyday, ordinary people play in protecting our native wildlife from such destructive pests.
At the SSAA, we take our role in responsible firearms use and education seriously, particularly in regards to safety. We proudly work closely with the firearms industry and peak organisations such as the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia. An example of where we worked proactively with the industry was through our ‘Secure Your Gun, Secure Your Sport’ program, in which we offered both SSAA members and non-members up to $200 to purchase police-approved safes to store their firearms. We were recognised for our efforts in this space through the receipt of an Australian Institute of Criminology award. The SSAA regularly conducts safety seminars and practical instructions for firearm handling, and engages with youth groups such as the Scouts and Cadets to promote the safe, fun and all-abilities nature of sports shooting to interested juniors.
To further connect and educate our members and the general public, the SSAA has a dedicated media unit and authors a number of high quality publications. These include the monthly Australian Shooter, the nation’s number one circulation shooting magazine, along with specialist magazines such as Australian and New Zealand Handgun and Australian Hunter. We also publish an internationally award winning cookbook featuring a selection of game meat recipes, as well as introductory guides for new shooters, and also the handy A Journalist’s Guide to Firearms and the Shooting Sports.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the ‘gun lobby’. People often talk about the gun lobby in Australia – but that is not our reason for existing. Although we are proud of our lobbying efforts, from the state to national and even international level through our official NGO status granted by the UN, we lobby because we have to. We have been forced by bias, ignorance and patent unfairness to take on that role. It is not our primary cause. However, it remains a key activity of the SSAA so decisions by lawmakers such as yourselves deliver positive, sensible legislation for the 800,000-plus licenced firearm owners in Australia today, and we pride ourselves on dealing only in evidence-based fact. The firearms industry is one of the strictest and most heavily regulated areas of government and we can point to many unnecessary and costly regulatory barriers that overburden this strongly growing recreational sector, for no public safety benefit. International teams are refusing to come to Australia because the bureaucratic burdens are simply too onerous.
I will leave you with one final thought, and that is to say: We are expanding. We are growing. In the last five years alone, we’ve recorded an annual membership growth of between 5 and 8 per cent per annum with a doubling of our female membership over the last five years.
For us and our members, this sport is our passion. I trust that our gathering tonight allows you to openly engage with us and my fellow colleagues about our chosen sport and pastime.
Thank you and good evening.