Australia's gun lobby and its political donations laid bare
The footage was shocking: One Nation figures meeting with the National Rifle Association in the US in search of political donations, media support and strategic advice. Australians may be surprised to discover the gun lobby in Australia rivals the NRA in size and spending, according to Australia Institute research commissioned by Gun Control Australia.
Most people have heard of the NRA, but few have heard about the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia. SIFA is not for shooting enthusiasts; it is the peak group for Australia’s five largest firearms suppliers, and our research finds parallels between its and the NRA’s tactics and advertising strategies, as well as between their political donations.
There is no evidence that political donations were made by the NRA to One Nation, and other parties have condemned One Nation emphatically. Federal MP Bob Katter said, “I’d die before taking money from overseas.”
The Australia Institute identifies $1.7 million donated to Australian political parties from the gun lobby since 2011, just from publicly disclosed donations.
The main beneficiaries of gun lobby donations were Katter’s Australian Party, with over $800,000, and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, with almost $700,000. Major donors include firearms supplier and manufacturer NIOA, the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia and and the Federation of Hunting Clubs.
At the last Queensland state election, Katter’s party increased its seats from two to three. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party won three lower house seats in last weekend’s NSW election, up from one. The final count will determine if they increase their seats in the upper house, too.
Other significant political parties received gun lobby largesse. The Liberal Party, Liberal Democrats, Nationals, Labor and Country Alliance each received tens of thousands of dollars in donations. While One Nation is the subject of the current controversy, our research found less than $10,000 in donations to One Nation from the gun lobby.
While there is no evidence the NRA is donating money to any political party in this country, Australia’s gun lobby is importing the NRA’s tactics and strategies.
SIFA donated to political parties before the 2016 federal election, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on political advertising at the Queensland and Victorian state elections.
These campaigns and donations were remarkable for their size, especially given they came from a gun body that most Australians have not heard of. We calculate that, relative to population, in recent years SIFA has spent as much on political donations and election campaigns in Australia as the NRA has spent in the US.
SIFA also followed the NRA strategy of running political ads that do not mention guns. NRA ads capitalise on popular grievances such as the Internal Revenue Service and media “elites”, while SIFA’s ads target hot-button political issues such as the price of electricity and the availability of skilled workers.
As well as influencing the strategies of Australia’s gun lobby, the NRA directly intervenes in Australian political debates. In recent years it has criticised the Abbott government’s Adler shotgun ban and described Australia’s 22-year-old gun control system as having “little evidence of success”.
Australia’s gun control laws are one of our most important reforms to public policy – and public health. Conservative politicians such as John Howard, Tim Fischer and then Queensland premier Rob Borbidge paid a real political price for their leadership in establishing the National Firearms Agreement. And Australians are safer for it.
The agreement’s popularity and proven success is a model for the US and other countries, precisely why the NRA is interested in weakening our laws and arguing they do not work.
Politicians could address community concerns about the Australian gun lobby’s influence by refusing to accept donations from firearms suppliers and dealers, as well as from sports shooting and hunting associations. There are well-established precedents: the Labor Party, Liberal Party and the Greens all reject donations from tobacco companies, and NSW and Queensland legislation bans donations from property developers.
Australia’s gun lobby keeps a low profile, but it is large, well-funded and politically active, with direct and indirect ties to the NRA. Australians will rightly ask what, if any, influence the gun lobby should have over our politicians, and whether political parties should be accepting their donations.
Bill Browne is a researcher at the Australia Institute and author of the report Point Blank: Political Strategies of Australia’s Gun Lobby.