Why nothing good will come from the SFF debacle, for the party, the MPs or shooters

The split of the NSW Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party has severely damaged the most powerful political representation shooters have ever had in Australia and it is hard to see how we can come back from it.

In less than a year, the party has lost all three of the lower house seats it had worked so hard to win, retaining only its two long-held seats in the upper house, where it is most effective because it holds a balance of power.

But the loss of three lower house seats is a loss of power and influence that it will not get back. 

And it has forfeited any chance on winning another seat at the next election, in which Upper Hunter candidate Sue Gilroy was considered a strong chance; she quit the party this week. 

It is no real consolation for shooters that the three former SFF lower house MPs — Phil Donato, Roy Butler and Helen Dalton — are pro-gun when it comes to their underlying political positions because their chances of re-election have taken a dive since they resigned.

They will not enjoy the funds and other resources that the SFF would have put behind them, and it will never help that the shooting, fishing and farming vote will be split between them on the party. 

Phil Donato is tipped to hold his seat when he faces his third election in March, as he has proven popular and took nearly 50% of the primary vote last time, but Butler and Dalton don’t enjoy the same positions. 

The other question is whether the party leader will retain his upper house seat. Has he alienated too many SFF-supporting voters? 

There is mud that will stick, whether it has substance or not: accusations of branch stacking and accusations of nepotism because his son is on the SFF executive. Insiders say there is more to come in relation to the “other internal issues” referred to in Donato’s resignation statement.

Borsak has won ground on many issues for many people, not just shooters: the greyhound industry, taxi industry, timber industry and others. This has boosted his grass-roots support. 

It’s no exaggeration to say that Borsak was the person most responsible for lifting the SFF to its most successful and powerful position in its 30-year history, making it a formidable political force that the NSW Government has had to give ground to. 

Borsak is known as a hard man who does not give ground himself and takes no prisoners. Indeed, he has made himself deeply unpopular in parliament and among much of the bureaucracy, including the Firearms Registry and police. He has made enemies. 

A lot of his detractors within the SFF do not think this is good. There’s a strong feeling that his aggressiveness does as much harm as good.

His comments that Helen Dalton should be “clocked” were the tipping point for those who believed Borsak needed to be replaced, and it wasn’t an isolated comment according to others in parliament who say he is prone to outbursts and bullying.

Perhaps if he had backed down, apologised for the “clocked” comment and tried to smooth the waters, the party may have gone to the next election as a united, intact organisation. Let the challenges comes later.

But Borsak did not back down. Nor did Donato and Butler, who stood on their principles and, having failed to remove Borsak, resigned from the party. Dalton had gone months earlier; Borsak’s fellow member in the upper house, Mark Banasiak, stayed.

Politics is all about compromise to get the best overall outcome but the lack of compromise inside the SFF last week has led to the worst possible outcome for shooters in NSW.  

The SFF is forging on to the March election, full of confidence, as are the now independent MPs. 

Neither the party nor the MPs will fight that election with anything like the strength they would have had if the SFF had not been blown apart. 

The SFF may struggle to survive much beyond the next election, especially if Borsak loses his seat. 

Related: Branch stacking accusations as SFF suffers members’ resignations
Related: Phil Donato: Why I quit the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party
Related: NSW Shooters Party in turmoil as MPs resign




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.