The Shooters and Fishers Party quietly celebrated its 20th anniversary last weekend when founder John Tingle used a hunting knife to cut a cake at the party’s AGM.
The party has been remarkably successful in two decades, starting out at a time when political will was turning against the shooting sports and John Howard’s draconian gun laws were only a few years in the future.
Despite the anti-shooting sentiment – or perhaps because of it – the party has consistently held seats in the NSW upper house, where four people have represented it over the years.
Tingle and the late Roy Smith set the precedent for what was then the Shooters Party, and Robert Brown and Robert Borsak are now the two members of the Legislative Council for what has become the Shooters and Fishers Party.
Tingle admits the party was formed almost by accident, after he had lunch with the then NSW Police Minister, Ted Pickering.
“It was a mistake,” he says. “It should never have happened.”
Over “about five bottles of excellent French wine,” Pickering told Tingle he was preparing to introduce the ban on semi-automatic rifles. According to Tingle, Pickering said, “Shooters are too disorganised, too lazy, too apathetic to ever get off their arse and do anything, so I’m not worried.”
“It was a very good lunch and I was feeling no pain,” Tingle says, “so I went down to the Electoral Commission and reserved the name ‘the Shooters Party’, meaning just to ring Ted the next morning and say, ‘See? See what you’ve done?’ The Daily Telegraph got hold of it and, the next morning, guess what was on the front page?
“In one week we got a thousand members. God knows where they came from! I was stuck with it.”
Quickly branded “rednecks, reactionaries and Rambos” by opponents, the Shooters Party took off.
In the current term of government in NSW, the Roberts are in a unique position, effectively holding the balance of power in the upper house and therefore having the chance to push hard for their constituents.
Since 1995, the party has had 11 bills passed into law, tabled four that did not make it, and has nine bills awaiting debate – a record it says is unmatched by any other crossbench or opposition party in the upper house. In comparison, the SFP points out that the Greens have had only one bill passed into law in those 17 years.
One of the party’s greatest achievements to date is the introduction of the Game Council and its system of licensed hunting in state forests and other public land, backed up by the impending introduction of national parks to the system.
As a result, millions of hectares of land have become available to hunters who previously had to rely on access to private properties, and this has undoubtedly contributed to the rising popularity of hunting in the state.
Duck hunting was outlawed in NSW under Bob Carr’s government, and even though a mitigation program was maintained, the once-thriving duck hunting culture in the state quickly died. Undoing laws is a difficult thing in politics, but the SFP has now all but succeeded in reversing the ban. A new model for duck hunting is being prepared, and legalised game-bird hunting now appears to be only months away.
The SFP was responsible for the introduction of ‘try shooting’ legislation, which has enabled unlicensed people to have a go at shooting at ranges, a real benefit to the industry as well as another way that we’ve been able to improve the public’s engagement with shooting and appreciation of it.
The removal of waiting periods for second and subsequent PTAs was another victory for the SFP, which has also made inroads for fishers with such things as the moratorium on new marine parks.
Other achievements include providing rights to defend yourself and increased funding for the shooting sports and clubs.
Over the years the party has made efforts to open branches outside NSW, most notably in South Australia, but with limited success.
However, the new Western Australian branch has grown quickly under the direction of Rick Mazza, with 550 members on board after only a few months. The western state may become the second one to see shooters gain a voice in parliament.
Mazza is organising the branch now to contest the election that will be held early next year.
Western Australia’s firearm laws are ripe for change, the state widely regarded by law-abiding firearm owners as the most oppressive in Australia.
The party’s first office was hosted in Fuller Firearms in Sydney. As it celebrated its 20th anniversary, the party was moving furniture into a new office in Sydney’s Baulkham Hills, where two full-time employees will be based.
It has come a long way – and achieved a hell of a lot – since that boozy lunch in 1992.
Find out more on the SFP website.