The recently revised National Firearms Agreement (NFA), quietly released in February, was at the forefront of discussions when the SSAA and other firearms groups converged on the capital last week. Chaired by Justice Minister Michael Keenan, the Firearms Industry Reference Group (FIRG) made it clear that the new document and entire review process was deeply divisive and a wasted opportunity to address oppressive restrictions affecting more than one million Australian citizens.
SSAA National President Geoff Jones flew the flag for our 180,000-plus members, receiving another apology for the handgun fiasco that failed to recognise the SSAA’s many legitimate handgun competitions. But it was the new NFA that the FIRG members took the Minister to task on. Minister Keenan assured the group that there was no intention to change the original document, except to recategorise lever-action shotguns.
After being pressed on the many apparent unintended changes, the Minister proclaimed that the NFA is not binding on the states or territories. It is an in-principle agreement and if aspects of the NFA are unworkable or unsuitable for a jurisdiction, they have the power to deviate from the document. This was repeated time and time again throughout the meeting and it shines a light on the stark reality of firearms laws in this country: there is no such thing as national firearms laws and the NFA itself carries no weight whatsoever. It is simply a guide.
Although this has always been the case, this attitude from the current Federal Government has repercussions for the SSAA. The fight to fix our woeful firearms laws essentially falls to our state and territory SSAA branches to take to their respective governments. More so, this means we need our members to be part of a grassroots campaign and voice concerns directly to local MPs and Police Ministers about how the current laws are severely affecting our recreation.
Many members have requested the SSAA Legislative Action (SSAA-LA) department create petitions or bulk emails to send to politicians. The reality is these types of campaigns simply do not work. The communication has to be personal and from a voter. Our dedicated Member Action page outlines how to pen letters or emails, along with how to address politicians, and exists to support our members in helping us with our cause.
As part of our role in representing our members, our meeting with the Minister also focused on apparent ‘language creep’. The FIRG members strongly opposed the seemingly subtle change in language that could alter the implementation and enforcement of the document if enacted in its entirety. This includes the introduction of ‘will’ and ‘must’, instead of ‘should’. The Minister was of the view that this would have no effect, but as Geoff rightly pointed out, semantics is important in any policy document.
Another issue discussed was the constantly announced national amnesty, scheduled for July 1 this year. Geoff questioned Minister Keenan on the proposed workings of the amnesty, with the Minister making it clear that this would be in the hands of the states and territories to decide and conduct – far from a national approach. There will be no compensation offered for items handed in.
Concerns were also raised regarding the new NFA document seemingly disappearing from the Attorney-General’s website. The Minister explained that following many complaints about it being housed under the ‘Crime and Corruption’ section of the website, the department decided to relocate it to the ‘Firearms’ section. This shows that it pays to make noise; being complacent and accepting the status quo is not the way forward for firearms owners.
The FIRG members also voiced our displeasure with the exclusion of a promised preamble in the document, which would recognise sports shooting as a legitimate activity. The Minister explained that this was not included as there was “no appetite” for this when he raised the idea with “others”.
The process itself raises serious questions about the Federal Government’s attitude towards firearms policy. Policy reviews of a similar nature usually include the drafting of substantial papers, official government committees and, most importantly, the opportunity for those affected to have their say. The SSAA has made it clear that holding meetings does not mean there has been consultation.
While leaving a sour taste in the mouths of shooters, the process also raises the vital question: is anyone actually serious about addressing the illicit firearms market? The evidence shows that constantly focusing on us, the law-abiding recreational shooting community, will not solve the problem. Overall, the whole process has been inflammatory and has alienated one million primary voters in tumultuous political times.
SSAA National can, and will, continue to work with our legislators. We will speak out against those who wish to further oppress our freedoms and praise those who support our cause. But the resounding message coming from the farcical NFA review is clear: firearms laws are ultimately the responsibility of the states and territories. This is where the change will happen.