THE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY SELECT COMMITTEE ON FIREARMS LEGISLATION MET AT HENTY HOUSE, LAUNCESTON, ON MONDAY 3 DECEMBER 2018
Mr ALISTAIR SHEPHARD, PRESIDENT, SHOOTERS UNION TASMANIA, WAS CALLED, MADE THE STATUTORY DECLARATION AND WAS EXAMINED.
CHAIR (Mr Shelton) – Welcome, Alistair. This is a public hearing and is being broadcast through the parliamentary website. I would like to reiterate some of the important aspects of the guide sent to you by the committee secretary. A committee hearing is a procedure of parliament. This means it receives the protection of parliamentary privilege. This is an important legal protection that allows individuals giving evidence to a parliamentary committee to speak with complete freedom without fear of being sued or questioned in any court or place outside of parliament. It applies to ensure that parliament receives the very best information when conducting its inquiries. It is important to be aware that this protection is not accorded to you if statements that may be defamatory are repeated or referred to by you outside the confines of this parliamentary proceeding.
This is a public hearing. Members of the public and journalists may be present, and this means that your evidence may be reported. It is important that if you wish some or all of your evidence to be heard in private, you make that request and explain your reasons prior to giving that evidence. Do you understand?
Mr SHEPHARD – Absolutely.
CHAIR – Thank you. Today you are representing Shooters Union Tasmania, which put a submission to the inquiry. We would like to hear from you and no doubt there will be some questions from the members as well. Do you have an opening statement?
Mr SHEPHARD – I do, and hopefully I will not take too long. My name is Alistair Shephard and I have been a law-abiding firearm owner for over 10 years. I am also a recreational hunter in and around Tasmania. I feel that these qualifications give me some ability to make comment on our firearms legislation in Tasmania. I also happen to be the president of the Shooters Union of Tasmania.
For some background, Shooters Union Australia and the Tasmanian branch is a lobby group that works on behalf of essentially anyone who owns a firearms licence. We aim to ensure that people are treated fairly and that we have legislation that is based on facts and not emotional fear campaigning. Shooters Union was formed in Queensland in 2004 and has since then expanded to Tasmania as one area this year and other state branches thereof. Shooters Union takes the fight for shooters’ rights very seriously and we have seen some solid gains in the political sphere of the firearms legislation. Our membership base is growing fast and we are recognised by other shooting organisations and many government officials as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to legislation that affects all firearm owners.
We at Shooters Union Tasmania recognise that some legislation is required around firearm ownership and use but we find that in Tasmania and, more broadly in Australia, our laws tend to go way beyond what you call reasonable legislation.
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We support licensing of fit and proper persons to hold a firearms licence and support safe storage of firearms. Once a person has proved they are a fit and proper person and that they can safely store their firearms, they should be free to go ahead and purchase whatever they have the funds to purchase. The further restriction of what firearms we can own is just onerous and a waste of time. Many countries that have a similar culture to Australia seem to trust its citizens with firearms, including semiautomatic firearms and suppressors, and they do not seem to have the apparent problems that the anti-gun crowd will tell you will happen in Australia if we did have access to them. New Zealand is a great example I would turn to.
Restrictions on the types of firearms in Tasmania is only hurting our agricultural communities. My day job is working with dairy farmers across the state for Lion Dairy and Drinks, so I am in contact with farmers that are up against pest populations every day. Semiautomatic firearms are merely a tool of trade for primary producers and their restriction has made huge populations of pest animals that cause massive cost to our agriculture. Primary producers and their agents, recreational shooters, should have access to the correct tools for the job at hand that can effectively control populations of pest animals that cause significant crop damage and cost to our farmers that they simply can no longer continue to afford.
The above two points of licensing and storage, in our opinion, is where the legislation should stop. In Australia we have some of the most poorly constructed and draconian laws in the world. The National Firearms Agreement is not held up as the envy of firearms legislation in the world; rather, it tends to be more of a laughing stock. It unfairly treats and vilifies firearms owners of their choice of sport or recreation. The NFA was brought in based on fear and using the untimely death of innocent people at the hands of a criminal and has only restricted those who choose to follow the law. Criminals run free with whatever weapons they choose.
The NFA has never been and never will be a binding document for each state to follow. We at Shooters Union Tasmania think Tasmania should take a stand and reject the NFA, move to make our own legislation that suits our state and say no to being told by our federal government what is best for our state.
At Shooters Union, we believe that the firearms registry is a total waste of taxpayer money and serves absolutely no purpose other than to provide a mechanism for governments to reach into its private citizens’ lives and the most law-abiding citizens lives and take their property. The firearms registry has not been effectively used to solve any major crime, and the taxpayer money spent to maintain it could be far better utilised elsewhere – for example, education, health, and the list can go on.
There are also concerns with the security of the database. With our firearms registry in Tasmania looking to go to a more online system, which we support, the security of firearm owners’ details – my details – are potentially a target for criminals looking for a shopping list of firearms. With the number of incidences of hacking of databases we see worldwide, I don’t think it should be a database we should have. Many people have registered their concerns around the My Health Record and we have extensions on the opt-out period for that. The concerns were around the security of the details held therein. We think a list or a database online of firearm owners is something that would be worse for the general public and a greater risk, not only for the general public but for those individuals who own the firearms.
We at Shooters Union were heartened earlier this year when the Tasmanian Liberals took the proposals that were developed in consultation with a wide variety of interest groups, of which I
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was a member, and that came to us before the state election in March. We were disappointed, but not surprised, that it was then met with the usual round of emotional and non-factual rubbish from the media and other groups. We were again heartened that a full-scale Legislative Council inquiry was to be held, as at least then our voices had a chance to be heard as a voice of reason. Again we were disappointed, yet not surprised, by the Liberal Government back-pedalling on their proposals once again, once they had gained power. It seems that firearms owners, the legislation and red tape we are constantly forced to work through are a political football and we are kind of getting sick of it.
I remember hearing a quote from Kerry Packer when he was being grilled by a Senate inquiry in the early 1990s. He had a suggestion for the government of the day where he said, ‘If you want to pass a new law, why don’t you only do it when you have repealed an old one?’. I think we could take a leaf out of his book and look at it as we look at our firearms legislation.
In closing my opening remarks before this committee, I would like to state that Shooters Union Tasmania is pleased to be able to present our side of the story and the story of millions of law-abiding firearm owners Australia-wide.
I will state as a firearm owner, I always have an underlying fear with an inquiry like this, while it enables us to have our voices heard, it will inevitably result in further burdens and legislation placed on us. Typically, it seems the only voices heard are the ones with the most emotion and fear-inducing sentiment.
Firearm owners are sick and tired of being treated as criminals-in-waiting, for choosing to engage in a legitimate and perfectly acceptable hobby. For those who find that statement a little hard to understand, I simply ask you one question: if firearm owners are not treated like criminals-in-waiting, then why, when we obtain a firearms licence, do all our details go into the CrimTrac database? I will leave it there.
CHAIR – Thank you very much.
Dr BROAD – As a way of background, the Shooter’s Union of Tasmania was established last year? Mr SHEPHARD – No, this year.
Dr BROAD – Were you involved in starting it?
Mr SHEPHARD – I have been involved from the start, yes.
Dr BROAD – You say in the written submission, the Shooter’s Union supports personal protection as a genuine reason to obtain a firearms licence, including a handgun. What are you basing this on? If you are supporting, I imagine, predominantly recreational shooting. then why is that in there?
Mr SHEPHARD – In Australia we tend to have a victim mentality. We are not given, generally speaking, the ability to effectively defend ourselves, if that is the case. Thankfully, in Tasmania we do not particularly often have that circumstance. But if there are those who see the need or have fear for their lives, why should we deny them a simple tool? Studies in places like
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America, where they do have the ability to protect themselves, even just the presence of a firearm can diffuse a situation, you do not actually have to use it. We support it absolutely.
Dr BROAD – If that is the case, would not it open up firearm ownership to everybody?
Mr SHEPHARD – Why not, yes if they are proved a fit and proper person to hold a licence. I do not think it needs to be compromised.
Dr BROAD – This comes back to the whole issue of the National Firearms Agreement, where it was hashed out that people needed a genuine reason. Personal protection was not seen as a genuine reason. Should that be all turned upside down?
Mr SHEPHARD – Yes, I believe so. Under current Australian legislation, we cannot have something, anything, ready and waiting for personal defence. We have to, in essence, use what we have available. Some people have more fear in their lives than other people and having something that provides you comfort could diffuse a situation, whether it is a firearm or anything else in preparation, we would support for a said situation.
Dr BROAD – How would you be thinking a personal protection firearm should be stored?
Mr SHEPHARD – The availability of quickly available, safe storage is certainly available worldwide. With fingerprint or handprint access, pin code access you can store it beside your bed or wherever you would want to store it and it would avail you easy access.
Firearms should also be able to be stored loaded, rather than a separation of the two like we currently have.
Dr BROAD – Does that not also bring in issues, like we see in the US where there are a number of toddlers accidentally shooting themselves and so on from poorly secured firearms.
Mr SHEPHARD – Not stored in a safe, only accessible by the licence holder.
Dr BROAD – Yes, but then the weapon is also loaded and is also a big change in the way we store them.
Mr SHEPHARD – They cannot get into it though.
Dr BROAD – Obviously that increases the risk of handling error, if the firearm is loaded and stored loaded. Then obviously, you do not have to go through a number of steps such as taking out the firearm and getting –
Mr SHEPHARD – In a situation where your life is in danger you do not have the time to unlock this, unlock that, do this, do that.
Dr BROAD – That gets back to your own admission that in Tasmania needing a firearm to protect yourself is something generally –
Mr SHEPHARD – Thankfully not, but if my life was in danger I would like to have the ability to protect myself and my family.
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Dr WOODRUFF – You do not think you could that with something else?
Mr SHEPHARD -I am not allowed to. I am not allowed to have something in waiting for that, am I?
CHAIR – You are talking about any sort of firearm?
Dr WOODRUFF – Oh, he could have lots of other things.
Mr SHEPHARD – I cannot have that sitting there waiting for that instance, because that is being pre-prepared and is against the law.
Dr WOODRUFF – I have a dog. I am making the point that you are attached to the idea of having to have a firearm –
Mr SHEPHARD – No, I am not.
Dr WOODRUFF – as the only viable means –
Mr SHEPHARD – Obviously, I am a supporter of firearms. That is why I am here. I support firearm use. But, I do find typically, we are not allowed to sit beside the front door with a baseball bat, in case somebody comes through it.
Dr BROAD – I do not think there is a law against it. You also say protection of oneself is enshrined in law and is our number one human right and there is no law that prevents a licensed shooter using a firearm for protection, if appropriate. That is in your submission.
Mr SHEPHARD – Right. Can you give me an appropriate situation where you would see that I would not be held accountable?
Dr BROAD – I am reading your submission, that is all. I am asking you to extrapolate on that. Where is the protection of oneself enshrined in law as a number one human right?
Mr SHEPHARD – It is just a basic human right that I should stay alive.
CHAIR – As I understand under the law – I could be corrected on this – you are allowed to use equal and opposite force to anybody who is attacking you. So, Dr Broad, if someone was coming at you with a firearm, then you could use a firearm to protect yourself. What we have done through this committee has opened it up for people to express their views and we are hearing those views from the Shooters Union.
I would like to go now to put together both your working life and you representing the Shooters, dairy farm, and so on, and as a rural guy and owning a couple of hundreds of acres on the issue and control of wildlife. I believe this should be connected to what we are discussing in firearms. Would you give me your views on the amount of wildlife and the difficulties farmers are having in controlling it?
Mr SHEPHARD -I would title it ‘booming populations’, specifically wallabies and the like. I understand they are a native population in Tasmania, but the other side of it is we are seeing a huge population growth. Wallabies breed to feed availability; you only have to look at a dairy
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farm and go ‘well there is a smorgasbord of feed available’, so they will keep breeding. What I find amongst the farmers who I deal with, is they have neither the energy nor time to be able to consistently control populations. The fencing can go so far, but we are seeing an increased cost burden on farmers, there is a real squeeze on the cost and the margins. Excess money to spend on things like fencing falls off the radar pretty quickly when you have to feed animals. Therefore, it generally falls to recreational shooters like myself and those others who do it to provide the service to farmers.
Consistently, when we go out we would be getting sometimes getting anywhere near a couple of hundred a night, and it is a case of generally running out of ammunition before you go home. We would see probably twice as many as we are able to shoot with the current firearms we have. While not so much suppressors in Tasmania but semi-automatic firearms are available to farmers, if you jump through a thousand hoops.
CHAIR – What is your regime?
Mr SHEPHARD – Generally, I am going out a couple nights a month. I could go out every night but the family would not let me; they would disown me. On a night we would be out 3-4 hours. We have permits and the proper crop protective permits on the farms and it never seems to be any less, is the way I see it.
We try to use the best available equipment we can and what is currently available. Our effectiveness rate I feel would definitely go up with the ability to use suppressors and semiautomatic firearms.
CHAIR – There has been evidence to the committee that when someone is out spotlighting and you have a dozen wallaby sitting in front of you and what is available to you is a bolt-action – can you explain to the committee the difference between being able to shoot, keeping your eye through the scope, with a semiautomatic versus having to take off the scope, bolt the thing in, aim and do it?
Mr SHEPHARD – Typically it is the case of breaking your sight picture. Generally with a bolt-action firearm you have a bolt protruding back out the end of the barrel, but if you leave your face there it could collect you in the eye and that would be rather uncomfortable. Basically what that means is you have to break your sight picture with the targets in front of you. That gives them a chance to move on because obviously after the first report of the rifle, they are aware you are there. That then means that some of them that are a little more nervous – which is probably a good thing from their point of view – will move on. Unless they stop you won’t get a chance to shoot them.
I currently have a five-round magazine in my firearm so I have five chances to hit. If you’re moving fast sometimes you won’t be as effective, but as soon as you start shooting in the area the others that are there know. So, you don’t have that chance to get them all. If you’re presented with 10 targets and you had 10 rounds, if you’re good you might get seven but five is probably the maximum because they notice the ones dropping around them and the others move on.
The way I see it, if a semiautomatic firearm with 10 rounds was available to you with a suppressor, they don’t hear the firearm report as much so they won’t know that things are going on, you are then able to maintain the sight picture and move from target to target to target. It’s a
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more effective solution and certainly something we at Shooters Union support and think should be available through the current sphere.
The thing I come across mostly with the farms I shoot on is that they want me to come every night I can so that they get as much pasture available for their cows, et cetera. They simply don’t have the energy or the time to get out and do it themselves.
Dr WOODRUFF – You said that you might go out and shoot a couple of hundred wallabies a night. Mr SHEPHARD – At times, yes.
Dr WOODRUFF – As it is at the moment, you are able to shoot wallabies in large numbers –
Mr SHEPHARD – No question.
Dr WOODRUFF – some of them always get away. So you have a solution that is effective but you want one that is more effective?
Mr SHEPHARD – In a nutshell, yes.
Dr WOODRUFF – It does work at the moment?
Mr SHEPHARD – To a certain degree yes, but again, we’re not getting ahead of the population.
Dr WOODRUFF – Can you talk to us a bit about the recreational shooters? You said the farmers would like you to come every night but you can’t do it. Are you saying there is a shortage of recreational shooters in Tasmania?
Mr SHEPHARD – I couldn’t give you a number of how many there are, how many would class themselves as that, because obviously we’re getting licences for a range of genuine reasons, and I don’t have a record of who stated what genuine reason. There are some who would shoot at a range and not see a farm. I would say there is not a great connection between the recreational shooters and farmers. Purely because it is my day job, I talk to farmers every day, and trust is an awfully large thing when you bring firearms into the equation, especially on a dairy farm where your stock is worth a bit. A number of the farms I shoot on are studs and you don’t want to be having a reckless shooter shooting your expensive cows, so trust is a thing that comes into the mix. Dr WOODRUFF – Are you saying there might be some space for a better matching up between farmers and recreational shooters?
Mr SHEPHARD – Potentially, yes.
Dr WOODRUFF – Maybe that could help facilitate some farmers who do not have access to people who can’t come as often as they want them to. They might not have needed them before, they might have done it themselves their whole working life, but they’re getting to an age where for whatever reason it is harder for them to do that, but they wouldn’t know who to ask. Would
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you imagine that things could be improved if we had some mechanism for them to sort of work that out?
Mr SHEPHARD – Potentially, yes. There have been systems in the past with other organisations trying to make that connection. The farmer needs to be in contact with that organisation as well as to make it meet and at times I think there has been a bit of a disconnect. I don’t think there’s a single silver bullet.
Dr WOODRUFF – Is that a TFGA responsibility, or an opportunity for the TFGA to make that connection between your organisation and their farmers, so that if people are in that situation they could be able to choose from a list of people and make those contacts and develop that trust?
Mr SHEPHARD – Potentially. I can’t really answer for the TFGA, I’m not part of them. But I guess from their point of view, it depends what the size of their member base is. I know that not all the farmers I deal with are in the TFGA. I don’t disagree that some sort of connection to be made would be a bad thing.
Dr WOODRUFF – You said that one of the problems is that it breaks the sight line because of the bolt action and also there is potential for somebody to hit themselves in the eye or the ear. Would that happen with someone skilled?
Mr SHEPHERD – No. If you were to smack yourself in the face with your bolt, yes, but you have to remove your head out of the way of the bolt, so you do break your sight picture from your scope. Dr WOODRUFF – Is that a problem? What is the problem with having to do that?
Mr SHEPHERD – Well, you’re not aiming at your target then.
Dr WOODRUFF – Yes, so there is a split second where you keep moving. That is part of the skill, isn’t it?
Mr SHEPHERD – It is a skill development, no question, and the more you do it the better you get, but there is a time involved. Each person would have a different time involved in regaining their sight picture through their scope. Any time in an instance when an animal decides to move or stay, time is your enemy at some point.
Dr WOODRUFF – Thank you.
CHAIR – So it is more about efficiency rather than anything else. Particularly if you’ve wounded one and for a moment it is stationary, it is more humane as well to have another bullet there you could do the job with.
Mr SHEPHERD – Absolutely, no question.
Dr BROAD – What are you shooting wallabies with?
Mr SHEPHERD – Mostly rimfires and centrefires. Depending on the night and where we are. Being cognisant of other people in the area determines what you end up shooting with.
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Dr BROAD – You say in your submission that the Shooters Union supports retaining genuine reason provisions in the current legislation, bearing in mind that you also want to add personal protection, but you do not support ongoing requirements to show a genuine need. Therefore you qualify once and then that’s it. Is that what you want for a licence?
Mr SHEPHERD – It then behoves you as the individual that if your situation changes you make a change to your licence requirements. It is the same with any licence we have – car licence, et cetera. If your situation changes it behoves you as the individual to call that situation change out.
Dr BROAD – I got a firearm for my sixteenth birthday and then all the gun laws came in and I never registered. Then I moved off the farm and haven’t picked up a firearm since.
CHAIR – You were never licensed or registered?
Dr BROAD – I was never licensed.
CHAIR – I just want to make sure that a committee member doesn’t have an illegal firearm that’s not registered. We are talking about your personal licence.
Dr BROAD – In the change between not requiring a licence to requiring a licence, I never did any of it.
CHAIR – There wasn’t a firearm that was left there that you got for your birthday?
Dr BROAD – No, that was handed in as part of the amnesty.
CHAIR – Yes. We have cleared that up.
Dr BROAD – That was handed in as part of the amnesty. That would have meant I would have qualified as having a genuine reason when I lived on the farm. I could have a licence now, although I have not lived on the farm for 20 years. Would there be other people in that circumstance? Or you are saying it would be up to the individual to update.
Mr SHEPHARD – I do not think I am suggesting lifetime licences per se. There still needs to be a period of time. The proposals that were put forward earlier on were looking at extending from five to 10 years. We support that as a proposal. You come back to proving you are a fit and proper person, at intervals.
Dr BROAD – With a 10-year licence range, are you arguing you need to prove you have a genuine reason every 10 years, or just the once?
Mr SHEPHARD – If your situation changes. For example, your situation change: you were on the farm and that became your genuine reason. You leave the farm, well, if you want to maintain a licence the current provisions are if you maintain a genuine reason. A genuine reason for not living on a farm could be target shooting. You can still do recreational hunting as a genuine reason to justify owning a firearms licence. That is in the current provisions.
Dr BROAD – If we had a 10-year licence period are you comfortable with every time the 10 years is up you have to show a reason?
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Mr SHEPHARD – We do currently.
Dr BROAD – Would you be suggesting that be maintained, or as you put in your submission, you ‘do not support any requirements to show genuine need once a person has been deemed appropriate to hold a shooter’s licence’. That is what I am trying understand.
Mr SHEPHARD – I see where you are coming from. Sorry, I misinterpreted. As an example of how the current system works, this past year I had to reapply for my licence. In the current sphere what we saw happen was that there was a whole swathe of firearm licence owners in Tasmania who had to reapply. So we did have to provide our genuine reason. I had to again obtain a letter from a farmer saying I allow this person to recreational shoot on my property. The result was all this put everything in the firearms registry behind. Individually I spent three months, without a valid firearms licence in my wallet. The amount of time and paperwork the registry had to then work through, along with registering firearms and keeping up permits to acquire, meant it all got out of hand.
Obviously, somewhere in the stacking of the system we have an awful lot of people coming in at once. If you went to 10-year licences I can see how you would want to see a reapplication rather than a renew. For shorter licence periods, where things do not particularly change much, a renewal versus a reapplication is quite arguably the decent thing to do. Let us face it, a lot can change in 10 years, but it does behove the licence holder to call out changes in their situation. It is the same with any other licence you gain in Australia. I had a high-risk fork lift licence which at one point in its lifetime, was a lifetime licence.
CHAIR – This is probably more of a question for Firearm Services, but in your view, if you have an employee on the farm with a licence and because of the changing nature of employment they leave but are always involved there and that is their genuine reason, with the five-year licence are they required to hand it in when their circumstances change or do they still keep their licence until the next five-year period?
Mr SHEPHARD – I have never really thought about that.
Dr WOODRUFF – If they have only got it by virtue –
CHAIR – If they are on the farm and the farmer has signed their form and now they are put off and work a labourer’s job as a brickie, for instance, they have their firearm’s licence for five years, so presumably they keep it for five years until there is a reapplication.
Mr SHEPHARD – Yes.
Dr WOODRUFF – They could take it to a shooting range and use their firearm there.
Mr SHEPHARD – Typically, from a practical standpoint, in that situation a farm worker who has gained a firearm’s licence because they work on a farm, if the farm worker has gained Category C access, if they leave the farm, that then negates the ‘primary producer’ in the current provisions.
CHAIR – They would lose their current licence.
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Mr SHEPHARD – Yes, they would lose that in the current provisions. If there is a case for having a Category A or B recreational hunters for a genuine reason, assuming they maintain contact with either the farm they are working on or other farms and have permission to shoot on those farms, their genuine reason is maintained.
CHAIR – For instance, if they have not and do not, their genuine reason is maintained if it happens half-way through. For two and a half years, they are actually working as a brickie’s labourer, without that genuine reason.
Mr SHEPHARD – They could still maintain the genuine reason of a recreational hunter.
CHAIR – If they had not. My point is there are some people who no longer have the genuine reason and they have firearms. It is not causing anybody any harm.
Mr SHEPHARD – Again, it would be the same with any licence. There are some people who would say, well my situation has changed so I need to conform to the appropriate authorities and there are some people that will not.
Dr WOODRUFF – Do you charge farmers to go onto their property and shoot pests.
Mr SHEPHARD – Personally, at times there is an exchange of sometimes ammunition and sometimes money, but typically no. I recognise I can fund my own hobby sometimes.
Dr WOODRUFF – Yes, so it is sport, but there is a cost.
Mr SHEPHARD – Absolutely there is a cost, no question, ask my wife. For the farmers I am happy to provide them a service. They sometimes will pay for ammunition, but typically I personally operate under a pay-my-own system.
CHAIR – You have mentioned shooters a couple of times that there are professional shooters.
Mr SHEPHARD – There would not be many. There are some, but I do not think there is a large amount. As I said, the cost structures on farmers are always increasing, finding a little more extra cash on the side to pay a contract shooter might not always be there.
Dr WOODRUFF – We have established there are opportunities for recreational shooters to develop a relationship with farmers –
Mr SHEPHARD – Absolutely.
Dr WOODRUFF – It does provide an access, as you say, to your hobby and an opportunity to practice your skill.
Mr SHEPHARD – That is the reason I do not particularly charge.
Dr WOODRUFF – Can I ask you another question about ‘fit and proper’. In your submission you are calling for basically abandoning the National Firearms Agreement and allowing people to be able to carry hand-guns and so forth. In your submission you say ‘if a person is deemed fit and proper to possess, store, transport and use a firearm for a legal purpose’, so there is a condition of
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being fit and proper. How do you think this should be determined? The current the way it is? Can we talk about that?
Mr SHEPHARD – I do not particularly have a great issue with the current way. Mental health is a concern about any form of licensing. I have not particularly delved into what hoops we have to jump through, to be a fit and proper person. I do not have a particular issue with the current way it has been laid out.
Dr WOODRUFF – What was the proposal made about this problem with the firearm’s licences all currently being renewed at the same time –
Mr SHEPHARD – Renewal.
Dr WOODRUFF – and that slows things down. A proposal has been made by another person who made a submission of a one-off staggered process for licence renewals to dispatch that problem for all time. Various proposals included randomly allocating every single licence holder in Tasmania to a four, five, six renewal starting on a certain date.
Mr SHEPHARD – For four to six years?
Dr WOODRUFF – Yes. So everyone comes due on 2006, 2016, or 2021, and instead of 2021 there would be a random allocation made whether it be 2020, 2021 or 2022, or three, four and five years for the first – once only. What would your view of that be?
Mr SHEPHARD – In principle I would support it to try to spread things out. As I said, my experience this year was that I was delayed in the process quite considerably. In that instance I basically locked my guns up for three months until I got my new licence because I didn’t want to go out there and have someone say, ‘Can I see your firearms licence?’. You put that over and say, ‘I’ve put my renewal in, you’ve got to just trust me’.
Dr WOODRUFF – Did it take longer than you thought it would?
Mr SHEPHARD – Absolutely. It was a period of time and it was well known because it was a lot. I would support that proposal in principle. I am assuming there will be an extra cost for a six-year licence versus a four-year or a three-year one, so if somebody is in a position where they’re told, ‘Right, you’re on a six’, but they can’t afford a six, that would be my only concern.
Dr WOODRUFF – Go for four.
Mr SHEPHARD – But if it was randomly chosen for you.
Dr WOODRUFF – Yes, okay, but in principle. I am just saying someone else has proposed this. Mr SHEPHARD – I don’t see it as an issue.
Dr WOODRUFF – One idea was four, five and six years, another one was three, four and five. That is obviously details but in principle the idea was about once-off dealing with this hump issue.
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Mr SHEPHARD – I don’t disagree. I think it is probably a good idea.
CHAIR – Just for the record, you could go up to five, six or seven years, so nobody is disadvantaged in the time they had. If those years were given to you anyway they could say, ‘Okay, your licence now isn’t coming due at the five-year mark, you’ve got an extra 12 months’, and then you do your renewal next year, and some other people might be lucky enough to get on the seven-year cycle but from that point on they are all going back to five years.
Mr SHEPHARD – Because it staggers it out.
CHAIR – They are the thoughts of some people’s submissions.
Dr WOODRUFF – It would be in breach of the National Firearms Agreement if we did that.
CHAIR – So would the six years.
Dr WOODRUFF – Anyway, it is just an idea.
CHAIR – It would have to be stipulated that it is a one-off situation.
The work on the alternative to 1080 policy was done 15 years ago. Farmers are reluctant to use 1080 because of the social pressures on them. I would like you to clarify this. For dairy farmers it is expensive if you are going to use wallaby-proof fencing and therefore shooting is really the only alternative. What are your thoughts on those three areas, and what have you seen or what have you experienced?
Mr SHEPHARD – I don’t like 1080 personally because I think it’s a pretty nasty way for the animal to pass. Shooting from a skilled shooters point of view is instant. You’ll get the odd one that at times needs to be put down with a second shot, but if you are practiced at what you’re doing and you do it properly you won’t have that issue.
Expanding the ability for recreational hunters to access the right tools is going to allow more effectiveness. Then we shouldn’t need to push for extra fencing or push down the road of baiting for 1080. What I don’t like about 1080 is the off-target impacts. It’s not only the target species that you want to die, there are other things that find it like the Tassie devils and quolls that then eat the dead thing.
CHAIR – An inquiry into alternatives to 1080 came down to fencing and shooting, so either you fence them off their feed and starve them in the bush, or some people do not like the idea of culling but in reality, that’s what you’re doing.
Mr SHEPHARD – The culling of animal populations is something that has gone on in Australia since basically day dot. It is effective if you have enough skilled people doing it. Fencing is great, don’t get me wrong. The company I work for owns two farms elsewhere and we have put considerable work into fencing, but you have to maintain it and that’s the problem. You can put it in but that fence line has to be consistently maintained, and that means time, effort and money. CHAIR – Then there is the actual principle of fencing an animal away from its food to manage the population that way so literally you are causing them to die of starvation.
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Mr SHEPHARD – To a certain extent you’re also just moving the problem elsewhere. If there is one problem here and we fence this, then they are over on that property. Everyone has to do it. It’s all in, or don’t bother.
Dr BROAD – The best practice with fencing is that you have to reduce the numbers at the same time, one way or another.
Dr WOODRUFF – The evidence with the ACT with the culling is that the population rise is dependent on the food source, so if you fence them out they just don’t reproduce at the same rate. It’s simple maths. It is not a continual hardship on the animals outside the fence.
CHAIR – Outside the first generation.
Dr WOODRUFF – That’s right, and kangaroos and wallabies can reproduce quite frequently. I have one last question. In your submission you said protection of oneself is enshrined in law and is our number one human right. We talked about the law issue. In Australia it is not enshrined as a human right –
Mr SHEPHARD – Not in law, no.
Dr WOODRUFF – It is very much in the United States Constitution, the right to bear arms, but we do not have that in Australia. It seems that some of the things you were saying in your opening statement were quite in line with the National Rifle Association in the United States. I think you mentioned worldwide at one point and then changed to Australia-wide – millions of people. The National Firearms Agreement, as it was struck, focuses on public safety. It says that ‘firearms possession is privilege’, not a right, and is conditional on ensuring public safety occurs. Do you not believe in that position? It is a different position to the one you presented.
Mr SHEPHARD – I certainly am all for public safety. I just don’t think that firearm owners are the risk to public safety they are presented as.
Dr WOODRUFF – That could be true or not, but you do not agree with the statement that whether you have a firearm is conditional on ensuring that the laws put public safety first, not convenience. There are definitely inconveniences in the rules around licences for firearms and where they’re stored and how they’re moved around. We have laws around seat belts and wearing motorbike helmets which are really inconvenient, especially if you’re a mother getting small kids out of the back of the car. You are signalling to another issue which is about rights.
Mr SHEPHARD -To a certain degree, I guess. We are cognisant that we live in Australia and our culture is very different from that of the United States. If there was an example of firearms legislation I would look to, it would be something like what New Zealand has in place.
New Zealand has a very similar culture to Australia. It isn’t exactly the same, but they have no firearms registry. They have a lot more freedom, once they have proved they are a fit and proper person to hold a licence, as to what types of firearms they can have. At some point in their political past they have looked at firearms registration and scrapped the idea as an overt cost. I don’t believe they have enshrined it in their constitution, or whatever, that it is a right. I still think that a lot of the things we have in life that people would take as rights are privileges: owning a car, having a car driver’s licence, it is not a right that is a privilege.
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Whether or not we are ever going to find ourselves on a road down the constitutional path like the United States that does enshrine rights, who knows. Time will tell on that one. As far as firearm ownership is concerned, I don’t think it is as big a public safety risk as it is made out to be. Public safety is required, do not get me wrong; hence the reason only ‘fit and proper’ people can have a firearm licence.
Dr WOODRUFF – It is hard to hear that statement after having watched the news in the United States for the last year. I spoke to someone who travelled here from southern United States last week. She said the mass shootings are so constant, every single week, children, adults, outside, inside. It is hard to reconcile how a particular firearms agreement has had no effect on that culture.
Mr SHEPHARD – What I would say as a counter to that would be it is not the firearm that has been doing it. Something has changed in the culture of the United States in the last 30, 40, 50 years, which has seen – it would seem to me and the way I would title it – the value of life and the value of somebody else’s life has disintegrated or really taken a tumble. I think there would be a number of things and we do not have the time here to go through them all –
CHAIR – Philosophical views.
Mr SHEPHARD – but why does somebody do that?
CHAIR – A good question. One last question from me. You mentioned sound suppressors from the shooter’s point of view, less noise and wallaby scare, and that sort of thing. A number of submissions have raised it as an occupational health and safety issue as well. I am wondering whether the Shooters Union is on that? Do you have any comments?
Mr SHEPHARD – Sound suppressors to me, I would have said, are a must. There are other parts of the world that have them, that if you go to a range or if you are shooting without them –
CHAIR – In a shooting sense, as in vermin control or wildlife control, some people from the city might argue, ‘Put some ear plugs in or ear muffs on’, that’s the same thing. You do not hear this and you do not hear that and something else. Can you explain to the committee your views on that? Mr SHEPHARD – Two parts with sound suppressors. There is the occupational health and safety of the shooter from a very loud noise. If you have shot firearms, especially centrefires, for any length of time without hearing protection, it is not comfortable. At the same time wearing hearing protection can become extremely uncomfortable as well. Don’t get me wrong. I wear a set of ear muffs that have the sound cut, so that it cuts the crack out of it. I can still to a certain degree hear but it is not as good as being able to hear normally. It is not the same and you miss a lot of things.
CHAIR – Particularly when you are hunting and you do not hear that thump, thump. If it a deer shooter, you do not hear that crack of a twig or something like that.
Dr WOODRUFF – But you do manage to kill a couple of hundred of wallabies a night with ear muffs on.
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Mr SHEPHARD – That is occupational health and safety.
The second part of it is animals. I am not only talking about the target species. You are talking about people who have horses, cattle, the crack disturbs them. I heard an example of some people who went shooting on a property just recently. They got a bit close to where there was some stock. The farmer had to go out and rescue them out of the bush, which took half a day. They were not aware that the stock was there. Had they had sound suppressors those stock would hardly even have known they were there
Dr WOODRUFF – Isn’t that a bit irresponsible to go shooting without checking with the farmer where the stock is? I would have thought that was the first question to ask. I wouldn’t want somebody on my property without asking me.
Mr SHEPHARD – You ring up and you ask. If they have moved the stock – absolutely it is fair and reasonable to ask. If you do not get the answer. You try to do what you can.
CHAIR – You can have a situation where one property has thoroughbred horses, for instance.
Mr SHEPHARD – If you are not shooting on the property that has got the stock –
Dr BROAD – I have more a comment than a question about the use of semi-automatic weapons, et cetera, like the US. You would have to agree that it would be virtually impossible to kill 30 people with a five-shot magazine and a bolt action.
Mr SHEPHERD – Not virtually impossible; just a lot slower.
Dr BROAD – I imagine that there would be people coming for you to stop you. Whereas with a semi-automatic, we heard evidence that in Port Arthur within the first 90 seconds there were 25 people killed, or something along those lines.
Mr SHEPHERD – Again, what I would point out, that is a criminal. That is not a law- abiding firearm owner who is following the law.
Dr BROAD – I suppose this is about the potential for damage as well.
Mr SHEPHERD – If they are locked up in a safe, then they are not –
Dr BROAD – In the US there are licensed firearm owners actually perpetrating mass shootings, so it is not just a criminal element that is perpetrating-
Mr SHEPHERD – I think you will find that most of those who are perpetrating it are not licensed firearm owners any more. They have pushed themselves onto the wrong side of the law, so they are criminals.
Dr WOODRUFF – You only need one person.
CHAIR – That is right. In the submissions that I have been reading through, has anybody asked to go to increase the magazine size from 10?
Dr BROAD – No, it is access to semi-automatics across the board.
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CHAIR – Okay. It is 11 o’clock. Before you leave us there is a statement I need to read to you. As I advised you at the commencement of your evidence, what you have sad to us today is protected by parliamentary privilege. Once you leave the table you need to be aware that privilege does not attach to comments you may make to anyone, including the media, even if you are just repeating what you have said within the committee. Do you understand this?
Mr SHEPHERD – I do.
CHAIR – Thank you very much, Mr Shepherd, for your evidence. It is much appreciated you coming again and spending the time on your submission and representing the people who you represent.
Mr SHEPHERD – My pleasure. Thank you.
CHAIR – Thank you very much.
THE WITNESS WITHDREW.
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY SELECT COMMITTEE ON FIREARMS LEGISLATION, LAUNCESTON 3/12/2018 (SHEPHARD) 17
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