Media and Politics Officer Rachael Oxborrow
In the wake of tragic events involving the illegal use of firearms in Queensland late last year, Australia’s leaders have committed to a “nationally co-ordinated approach to the management of firearms” which would improve co-operation between jurisdictions, these comments made by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese following a meeting of the National Cabinet in early February.
The series of events which led to this announcement occurred in rural Queensland in December and resulted in a tragic loss of life. As predictably happens when elected leaders attempt to address public fears where firearms are involved in high-profile criminal incidents, commitment to changes in firearm laws followed. The chorus was made up of the usual anti-civilian firearm ownership groups and was joined by state and territory Premiers and Police Ministers.
While initially these calls were focused on demanding changes to firearm laws in general, it became clear there was more to the story of the perpetrator and there may have been failures or limitations in the system which contributed to the situation. The tune of the conversation changed to a perceived need for a national firearms registry that would allow police from all jurisdictions to access firearms licensee details with more ease than they can currently.
The Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA National) initially respected the loss of life by delaying any comment in the wake of what may be considered an act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history. In the weeks that followed, SSAA National made a small-scale statement as discussions turned political. Prime Minister Albanese said in December there wouldn’t be a review involving changing the nature of firearm laws, rather an investigation of a national firearms registry should be considered by National Cabinet in early 2023.
In response, SSAA National cautiously welcomed a metered approach to the situation by the PM but also questioned the acceptance and utilisation of the existing Australian Firearms Information Network (AFIN), introduced after the 2014 Lindt Café siege in Sydney to bring together registry data from all jurisdictions. The creation of AFIN was hindered by delays and consistency issues and it appears this database may not be fit for purpose.
SSAA National also renewed calls for reinstatement of the Federal Government’s Commonwealth Firearms Advisory Council that would create a formal working group of key firearms community stakeholders to offer informed advice and consultation. In the lead-up to February’s National Cabinet meeting, ABCs daily current affairs TV program 7.30 approached SSAA National to provide a viewpoint on behalf of licensed firearm owners. Filmed interviews with this writer as well as SSAA (WA) President Paul Fitzgerald were conducted by ABC over several hours and resulted in around 30 seconds of footage being aired.
The concern would be (something expressed by both myself and Paul during interview) is if a national firearms registry introduction progressed to a national set of firearm laws, how would these be determined? We know laws don’t deter criminals from acting illegally with unlicensed firearms and ultimately legislation of this type will predominantly impact licensed firearm owners who follow the letter of the law. As this situation develops SSAA National will continue to communicate with the Federal Government and update membership as appropriate.
WA Government flags mental health checks
Shortly after the National Cabinet’s announcement of calls for a National Firearm Registry which already exists via the Australian Firearms Information Network (AFIN), the Western Australian Government revealed yet another tactic in its agenda to remove firearms from civilian ownership. This time WA Police Minister Paul Papalia blindsided a number of key communities in that state by committing to mandatory mental health checks for all new and existing firearm licence holders as a part of its review of the WA Firearms Act announced in March 2022.
Minister Papalia has shown his contempt for WA shooters in the past, most notably through the release of a detailed map revealing 89,000 firearm owners’ addresses and creating a media spectacle by demonstrating a .50 calibre BMG military rifle, implying it’s readily available. Importantly, the firearm was discharged on a non-SSAA range not designed for this calibre of rifle as a legal option. Details of the mandatory mental health checks are non-existent and so far haven’t been shared, while references to this proposal being in the interests of public safety have no tangible proof of concept attached.
SSAA (WA) President Paul Fitzgerald has rejected the measures as ill-conceived, non-sensical and has highlighted shared concerns this concept will put key health services in the state at risk. SSAA (WA) supports the safe and legal use of firearms for recreational shooting and competition use and will continue to call into question the failure of the State Government to consult with key stakeholders, particularly with respect to mental health services in WA.
In response to this and many other overreaching proposals in the rewrite of the WA Firearms Act, Mr Fitzgerald and WA Firearm Traders Association (WAFTA) President Bevan Steele have participated in multiple media interviews representing the views of our licensed and law-abiding firearm owners in the west. Efforts are now being coordinated to firm-up cohesion across the firearms industry, farming groups and presenting a show of strength to the WA Government that this section of the community will not tolerate being strong-armed into submission.