Australia’s $50 million-a-year firearms industry is a major undercover financier of the gun lobby which has campaigned successfully against tougher controls including a national register of firearms.
Through organisations such as the Shooters’ Party and the 50,000-member Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA), arms importers and dealers have poured tens of thousands of dollars into election campaigns, mass advertising and political lobbying.
Over the past five years the lobby has claimed success in defeating moves to tighten firearm laws assisted by expensive advertising campaigns.
Following public calls for stronger national gun laws in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre in which 35 people were shot dead, a Herald investigation of the lobby has found that:
* The NSW Shooters’ Party is significantly influenced by gun dealers and former dealers who make up three of its nine directors. At least 10 per cent of the $300,000 spent to get its candidate, Mr John Tingle, elected to the Legislative Council last year was contributed by the industry.
* The Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia, which spent $200,000 to $300,000 last year campaigning against restrictions on gun use and ownership, has received funding from the powerful American National Rifle Association, and from the local subsidiary of the US armaments giant Winchester.
* The NSW secretary and “registered officer” of the national Shooters’ Party, Mr Malcolm David Fuller, is managing director of Australia’s largest gun importer, which brought in a large quantity of Chinese SKS assault rifles, one of the two types of weapon used by the Tasmanian gunman.
The party, formed by Mr Tingle in 1992, claims 7,500 members and has two directors involved in the industry: Mr Dallas Hillary Colin Wade, 52, a firearms dealer in Cessnock; and Mr Malcolm David Fuller, 33, whose late father founded Fuller Firearms, Australia’s largest arms importer and wholesaler, 40 years ago.
From the company warehouse in Auburn, Mr Fuller said that he imported many types of weapons and ammunition, including the Chinese-made SKS semi-automatic assault rifle. He imported “quite a few” of the SKS guns in 1986, the year before the Federal Government banned their importation.
The hard-hitting, rapid-fire SKS, which can be fitted with a “banana” magazine holding 30 or 40 bullets, has featured in a number of murders, suicides and hostage-taking crimes.
It killed six of the seven victims of Sydney’s Strathfield massacre, and was one of two weapons used by the alleged Tasmanian mass murderer Martin Bryant.
Asked how he felt about the possibility that Bryant used one of the guns he imported, Mr Fuller said: “It is possible. I don’t deny that I feel remorse at this situation (but) the probability is that the fellow had these firearms illegally. What use is tighter gun laws going to be except to tie up more police resources (dealing with) legal gunowners who are doing the right thing, rather than cracking down on a fellow like this.”
He said he did not feel his occupation as a gun dealer compromised his prominent State and Federal positions in the party.
“I was voted in … as a person they thought could do a good job,” he said. “I have no real power. The power in the party is with the chairman and John Tingle.”
Mr Tingle said he did not know the details of his party’s finances, but he was not embarrassed by the sources of its funding, nor by the possibility that Mr Fuller had sold the gun used in the Tasmanian massacre.
“It is not an embarrassment,” he said. “It is a cause of regret because when they were imported they were imported legally.”
In NSW, Victoria and South Australia the gun lobby backs the Shooters’ Party. In Queensland it supports the National Party, in WA the Liberals and in Tasmania the Coalition.
Among other “successes” the lobby, in a pamphlet titled Rednecks, Reactionaries and Rambos, claims responsibility for the 1988 defeat of the NSW Labor Government led by Mr Barrie UNSWorth, which campaigned for tougher gun laws. It is subtitled: “The true story of how a supposedly unsophisticated group of firearm owners helped bring down a government.”
Mr Ted Drane, the outspoken national president of the SSAA, says that through direct political lobbying of the National Party opposition, his organisation defeated moves by the then Victorian Labor Government in the wake of the Melbourne’s Hoddle Street massacre to ban all semi-automatic weapons.
He also claims part of the credit for stymieing a tightening of Tasmania’s lax gun laws.
In NSW, Mr Tingle (a shooter and former radio commentator) claims that since his election last year, the gun lobby has “changed the Government’s mind about the firearms amnesty” and “persuaded the Carr Government to allow people to sell unlicensed firearms to dealers for the first time” – among other victories for “the basic freedoms we all expect to enjoy”.
But what was not publicly known until now was the extent to which these were victories for the Australian gun industry, whose sales have been steadily declining since anti-gun laws began to tighten a decade ago.
One of the dealers recently forced out of the industry was Mr Ted Orr, a former policeman from Tamworth who is a director of the NSW Shooters’ Party.
Mr Orr, a foundation member of the party, debunked claims of a conflict of interest.
“We operated with zilch money when we started, and the only people who were available to get any sort of networking going were dealers,” he said.
“The terrible word that’s been thrown up at me numerous times is, ‘You have a vested interest,’ and I always say ‘Yes, I have. So what?’ I have got $40,000-worth of firearms, good collectable stuff.”
According to Mr Drane, directors of the Shooters’ Party branches in Victoria and South Australia also include people in the firearms industry. “I’d say it’s a vested interest,” he said. “We are concerned about it.”
As well as personnel, the gun industry provides substantial financial support to the NSW Shooters’ Party, which also funds the Federal party. The party raised a $369,000 war chest to finance the seven-candidate ticket it ran at the last NSW Legislative Council elections, and $20,000 to contest a number of seats at the March Federal election.
After membership subscriptions and government funding, State electoral returns show that the most generous contributors were Fuller Firearms ($9,930), and an industry organisation called the Firearms Advisory Council ($19,868), which is not registered as a corporation but gives an address c/- D.W. Custer Pty Ltd, an ammunition importer in the Sydney suburb of Silverwater.
A spokesman said that 15-20 dealers were members, and the organisation donated the money “trying to get someone elected to parliament … who would raise the image of shooters”.
Other major donors were Safari Club International of Burwood ($6,874), which organises big-game-shooting expeditions, and the NSW Forest Products Association of Surry Hills, an organisation of 250 sawmillers and logging contractors working in NSW native forests, which gave $10,000.
Its chief executive, Mr Colin Dorber, said the FPA had also given $10,000 each to the Liberal and Labor parties, and the money was “to influence him (Mr Tingle) in favour of the issues we represent.”
Mr Orr put it another way: “We both have the same enemy basically … we don’t need a bunch of long-haired unwashed gits up trees … trying to tell us how to run a forest.”
Pro-shooting candidates receive substantial backing from the SSAA, though not in direct cash donations.
“I don’t trust them (politicians),” said Mr Drane. “I wouldn’t give them two bob.”
But advertising – in the association’s 55,000-circulation monthly magazine, and in national and local newspapers – and other lobbying activities consume up to $300,000 a year of the association’s $3 million turnover.
The SSAA spent $50,000 targeting seats in the last Federal election, and Mr Drane claims at least one conservative candidate in NSW owes his election to the lobby.
The SSAA has also been a beneficiary of gun industry largesse. Mr Drane said that twice, when he and other members went to the US to study lobbying tactics from the National Rifle Association, the NRA paid $10,000 to cover the delegation’s travel and accommodation costs.
He said: “I’d have liked to have got more money from them and used it.”
He had asked the NRA, a high-powered lobby with a budget of more than $100 million a year, for a donation of $250,000, but they refused because their focus was on domestic lobbying.
However, another American organisation, Olin Corporation, which owns the famous Winchester weapons brand, had twice donated $10,000 to the SSAA, for “educational purposes”. On the last occasion, last year, the money had been put towards a youth shooting training camp at Milmerran in Queensland.
Olin Australia, a wholly-owned subsidiary, is based in East Geelong, Victoria, and has a $50 million-a-year turnover including the importation of well-known brands as Beretta. Its managing director, Mr John Canning, said the company did not donate to political parties but did spend $15,000 a year advertising in shooting magazines, and sponsoring “promotional events” run by shooting organisations.
On the Money Trail
FIREARMS ADVISORY COUNCIL (gun dealers) $19,868
NSW FOREST PRODUCTS ASSOCIATION $10,000
SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL $6,874
FULLER FIREARMS $9,930
THE LOBBY GROUP
Olin Australia Ltd (US-owned. formerly Winchester) $20,000
National Rifle Association (US) $10,000
SPORTING SHOOTERS’ ASSOCIATION
$200,000/$300,000 a year on advertising, lobbying and political campaigns
Advertising lobbying (NO FINANCIAL DONATION)
Australia’s largest arms importer Fuller Firearms
Managing director is Malcolm David Fuller.
Imported SKS 7.62mm semi-automatic assault rifles: NSW Shooters’ Party secretary
State MP John Tingle: Shooters’ Party Vice-chairman
Arms dealer Dallas Wade: Shooters’ Party director
Former arms dealer Edward Orr : Shooters Party director
Drawing: Ron Tandberg
Caption: John Tingle; Dallas Wade; Edward Orr; Malcolm David Fuller.