We might be living in the last days of the nanny state here in New South Wales. The Shooters and Fishers Party, likely to hold the balance of power in the Legislative Council, are keen to get moving on their agenda, and that agenda has no place for the over-centralised, urban-centric, politically correct nanny state we all apparently call home.
Polls suggest the Shooters and Fishers Party look set to maintain their vote of around 3 per cent in the upcoming election, returning Robert Brown MLC to the upper house. With fellow party member Robert Borsak MLC, who is up for election in 2015, the Shooters and Fishers Party may well hold the balance of power with the Christian Democrats in the Legislative Council.
Labor and the Greens are claiming the Shooters and Fishers Party are likely to instigate policy reversals with their position in the upper house. Robert Brown phrased it differently when he spoke to New Matilda this week, "We will use the influence in exactly the same fashion as we did before the election with the Labor Government".
It’s not a completely unfounded claim. Despite the hue and cry raised by Labor about a conservative majority in an O’Farrell upper house, the Shooters and Fishers Party held a similar position in the upper house while Labor was in government. Brown told New Matilda: "up until the last year of the four year election cycle, Labor were happy to deal with us and we were happy to deal with them".
"The balance of power is a fleeting thing," says Brown. The Coalition will only require the Shooters and Fishers Party, along with the Christian Democrats, if they can’t work with the Greens on an issue, and if "they don’t need the conservatives, they vote with the Greens". Brown has stated elsewhere that he sees the party’s role as supporting the National side of the Coalition and points out that it is the Liberals, not Nationals, who dominate the Coalition.
It’s not a case of a cut-and-dried alliance between the Coalition and the Shooters either. The number two on the Shooters and Fishers Party ticket, Jim Muirhead, states on the Shooters and Fishers Party website that it was anger with John Howard’s policy on gun control as the galvanising event that threw him into active gun politics.
While that’s all very well, in all likelihood the Coalition will find it easier to work with the minority right section of the Legislative Council than the Greens. With significant elements of the Shooters and Fishers Party policies already realised under the Labor Government, how much more of their agenda will be advanced under a Coalition government?
It’s an agenda in keeping with what you would expect given the party’s name. No surprises, according to Robert Brown, who says it will be "exactly the same agenda that was not completed under the previous government".
It includes a moratorium on the creation of any new marine parks or expansion of current marine parks, until a five year research plan can be completed. They also would like the right for fishers to fish in these areas, provided the fishing is managed in accordance with an environmental management plan.
Also on the cards is another look at the Firearms Legislation Bill. This was passed through Parliament in 2010, but Brown would like to have a go at reviewing aspects that the "government amended out".
These would most likely include a removal of the need to register air rifles, allowing juniors under the age of 12 to shoot under supervision at approved ranges, allowing the 28-day waiting period for a firearms licence to run concurrently with the 28-day period for a permit to acquire one, and — the cause of significant disquiet when the policy was announced — reducing the disqualification period for the possession of a firearms licence from 10 to five years for a person subject to an AVO.
The issue that projected the Shooters and Fishers Party into mainstream consciousness in the past couple of years is shooting in national parks, and it’s not likely to be one that goes away any time soon. The Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill will likely be reintroduced early in the new term. There are several aspects to this bill, but the main tenet is to "increase the amount of public land declared for hunting to help control invasive species impacts". In other words, to allow shooting in national parks, ostensibly of feral animals. This policy sits with the Shooters and Fishers Party conservation policy, along with an agenda for increased access for recreational hunting.
The problems with this are manifold. The controversies surrounding the Southern Highlands Regional Shooting Complex, where a workplace dispute is taking place over safety concerns for park rangers working in the complex, is a case in point. But the suggestions from the Shooters and Fishers Party that national parks are too expensive to run (as opposed to state forests), and that natural resources would be better handled if they weren’t just "locked away", obviously strikes a chord with some New South Wales voters.
The Murray-Darling Basin plan is the perfect example of this. The Shooters and Fishers Party aren’t alone in suggesting that New South Wales should just withdraw from the whole thing — you might hear the same suggestion if you walked into a country pub on a Friday night. The party taps into resentment over the perception that New South Wales policy is framed at the expense of those in the bush.
But for all their talk of being conservation-minded environmentalists, the Shooters and Fishers Party is a minority right-wing outfit. We might agree with them that transport and rail infrastructure in New South Wales needs improvement, especially in regional areas, and that literacy efforts need to be increased — who doesn’t? But also included in one of their action plans (pdf) are a review of the Kings Cross Safe Injection Rooms and the abolishment of ethics classes in NSW public schools, two prominent achievements of the Labor government. They would like to remove the trial homophobia education programs in schools.
Come 27 March, the Shooters and Fishers Party will be ready to oppose what they see as the minority green agenda overriding all their interests. As an electorate, we might be wise to heed their warning when it comes to all minority interests, including their own.
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