RECREATIONAL gun users, including those who help control feral animal pests damaging agricultural production, have a new parliamentary forum.
Parliamentary Friends of Shooting was unveiled on Monday night at an event attended by Olympic and Commonwealth games shooting champions Michael Diamond and Laetisha Scanlon, hosted within Parliament House, Canberra.
The new group will be co-chaired by Victorian National Party Senator Bridget McKenzie and Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
More than 40 members of federal parliament have already joined the group, which will hold a field trip in coming weeks for members to experience clay target shooting at a local shooting range.
The event was attended by NSW Nationals MP John Cobb, who was shadow agriculture minister in the previous parliament, and his former counterpart, Queensland Labor Senator Joe Ludwig.
Senator McKenzie - the driving force behind Parliamentary Friends of Shooting - recently told Fairfax Media that being a recreational gun user was a tough political battleground, but one she’s prepared and proud to fight in.
“Too often we stereotype hunters and shooters as rednecks in this community and that’s absolutely not the case,” she said.
She also believes recreational shooters deliver economic, environmental and social benefits to the community, including voluntary work to help control feral pests and animals.
“We have almost 3 million registered firearms and more than 730,000 licensed firearms owners in Australia,” she said.
“In Victoria, hunting contributes $430 million annually to the local economy, with 1500 jobs in direct employment, most of those out in the regions.
“Hunting and shooting delivers an incredible economic, environmental and social benefit to our community, particularly in regional areas.
“Through the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting our aim is to assist Members and Senators who want to learn more about the sport and to have a go themselves.”
According to Senator McKenzie, sporting and recreational shooting was often not regarded with the same prominence as other sporting and recreational pursuits.
She said the new forum would help to promote a more sensible public debate about recreational shooters by better-informing elected members.
Sports like pistol shooting may also be added to the parliamentary sports agenda alongside mainstream sports like football, netball, swimming or soccer, she said.
Mr Diamond has won two Olympic gold medals in trap shooting; at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and at Atlanta in 1996.
He’s also won eight Commonwealth Games medals and said he started shooting with an air rifle at the age of six.
Mr Diamond told the Parliament House gathering that winning the Sydney gold medal in front of his home crowd was a “truly humbling” experience.
Ms Scanlon said shooting was a challenging sport, both physically and mentally, but one which had allowed her to travel the world and compete at a high level.
She said many people took up the sport at a young age like her due to their parents’ influence, but hoped other people with no family background in shooting would see her competing and would choose to try it for themselves.
“I’m hopeless at netball,” she said.
Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia chair Luca Rossi said given that Victoria’s economy benefitted by $430m from the Victorian hunting industry, the industry was “easily” valued at $1.5 to two billion nationally through the inclusion of target shooting and other associated uses.
“I don’t think anyone in this room would want to suffer what we suffer daily, to conduct our business,” he told the gathering of political and industry representatives.
Mr Rossi said he also wanted to also see more young people taking up shooting sports like clay target shooting.
According to Mr Rossi, sports shooting is a healthy outdoor activity, unlike video games, which he said are less healthy and simulate violence.
Trophy hunting spat
The launch also coincided with a reported spat between the Liberal Party and the National Party over trophy hunting.
It came after the Nationals felt aggrieved at the lack of consultation underpinning the announcement of a recent ban by Environment Minister Greg Hunt on the import of lion products from trophy hunting, into Australia.
Also known as 'canned' hunting, the ban was supported by the Humane Society International for assisting with conservation efforts for lions in Africa.
While not supporting 'canned' hunting, National Party members like Senator McKenzie felt legitimate, recreational hunters, like those involved in controlling feral animals, were being stigmatised via the ban.
Mr Hunt made the ban announcement on March 13, saying the Australian Government was “taking action to protect African lions from the barbaric practice of canned hunting by banning the import and export of trophies made from these magnificent animals”.
“Canned hunting is the practice where lions are raised in captivity for one reason only – so that those who are prepared to pay top dollar are guaranteed a ‘kill’,” he said.
“These new rules mean that if you go overseas and engage in the appalling act of canned hunting, you can forget about bringing your lion trophies back to Australia.
“You don’t deserve the right to celebrate the slaughter of these amazing creatures.”
Mr Hunt announced the maximum penalty for wildlife trade offences was 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $170,000 for individuals and up to $850,000 for corporations.
Mr Rossi – also National Firearm Dealers Association president - told a recent Senate inquiry that feral pests and animals caused about $750 million damage a year to rural communities and farmers and using recreational shooters was an efficient and inexpensive method of control.