Australia’s gun lobby is pouring money into a US-style state election campaign aimed at weakening Victoria’s firearms laws, according to anti-violence campaigners.
Gun Control Australia says the Shooting Industry Firearms Association (SIFA) is using tactics developed by the National Rifle Association to get pro-gun politicians into Victoria’s parliament to work against the state’s weapons control laws.
The association insists the campaign it is funding, called ‘Not Happy Dan’, asking voters to preference the Labor Party last, is simply a response to community concerns identified in its research. A spokeswoman initially said the campaign would cost $200,000 and later said the budget was $165,000.
The group is also contributing to the election campaign of the Shooters and Fishers Party, which failed this year to relax restrictions on silencers through the state parliament.
The lobby group is backed and funded by the biggest names in the global firearms industry, including Beretta and Winchester.
SIFA’s spokeswoman Laura Patterson said that the campaign was instigated after an online survey to identify issues of concern to Victorian voters.
“Not Happy Dan’s campaign messages were drawn from independent research into Victorian voters’ attitudes,'' she said.
“The same issues that affect families, power prices, crime and political leadership, also affect Victorian business. Eighty per cent of SIFA members’ wholesale business is based in the state of Victoria.”
But Gun Control Australia president Samantha Lee said campaigning tactics such as those being used by SIFA had the ultimate goal of selling more guns.
“Like most industries, the gun industry wants to sell more of their product to more people. One effective way to achieve this is to back politicians who will weaken the laws that govern firearms,” Ms Lee said.
“It's a classic strategy taken straight out of the NRA handbook. To say a campaign funded by the gun industry is not about guns, is like saying a campaign funded by the coal industry is not about coal.”
SIFA ran a similar campaign in Queensland’s 2017 election called "Flick Em", and have said its approach had changed after it found the traditional lobbying method of donating to political parties to be “ineffective”.
“Our independent campaigns in the 2017 Queensland state election and 2018 Victorian state election represent a departure from campaign donation strategies trialled in the past,” a spokesperson said.
The tactic, according to advocacy manager Stephen Bendle from the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, is a way for the lobby to get a pro-gun independent into the parliament and hold the balance of power in a minority government.
“The gun lobby’s aim is to frustrate the parliament by getting candidates elected who are sympathetic to their agenda,” Mr Bendle said.
“It is perverse for the industry body to be underwriting these political campaigns.”
SIFA rejected the criticism as “baseless” .
“GCA should stop spouting its baseless rhetoric and join with proven and trusted firearms experts like SIFA…” a spokesperson said.
“SIFA calls on the Alannah and Madeline Foundation to put its money where its mouth is on community safety and join SIFA in our call for critical technical upgrades to the systems required to manage Australian firearms most effectively.”
SIFA has donated money to the Liberal Party, the Nationals and the Shooters and Fishers Party in the recent past, but association spokeswoman Ms Patterson said that SIFA’s executive had only confirmed financial support for the Shooters and Fishers in the upcoming Victorian election.
“The executive have not committed funding to any other party,” she said.
The association would not say what they had donated to the Shooters and Fishers, but said they would declare after the election. In 2015-2016, the association donated $23,000 to the party nationally.
The Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Correction: this story has been amended. The original version identified Gun Control Australia as Gun Safety Australia.