Proposed Changes to Firearms Legislation

Wallabies – the main target
According to State Government figures released in 2009, which are the latest available, 1.3 million wallabies were culled in 2006-7 and 1.1 million in 2005-6 by farmers and forestry companies. For the ten year period leading up this point between 500,000 and one million wallabies per year were reported as being culled. If, as farmers and shooters claim, the problems caused by wallabies have become worse, the numbers culled on farm land may have increased.
 Left: a Category C semi-automatic shotgun similar to the kind which would become available should Liberal Party policy become law. Photo courtesy of www.cleaverfirearms.com

Left: a Category C semi-automatic shotgun similar to the kind which would become available should Liberal Party policy become law. Photo courtesy of www.cleaverfirearms.com

The TCT is very concerned about certain aspects of the Liberal Party’s firearms policy. In particular, we are concerned about the proposal to make Category C licences (rapid fire firearms) available to a wider group of people than is currently the case, which we are told is for the purpose of controlling native animals to protect crops and pasture. 

The policy does not mention wallabies and possums but the unstated purpose of the policy seems to be to give more people the ability to shoot more of these native animals. Ironically, the policy does not include an objective that the provision of rapid fire firearms will have a benefit for farmers by making control of browsing animals more effective or efficient.   

Police Tasmania’s website defines Category C firearms as:

  • self-loading rim-fire rifle with a magazine capacity of no more than 10 rounds of ammunition; and

  • self-loading shotgun with a magazine capacity of no more than 5 rounds of ammunition; and

  • pump action shotgun with a magazine capacity of no more than 5 rounds of ammunition.

Police Tasmania also states that a Category C licence is only available to a primary producer, a person employed or engaged in primary production, or a bona fide collector subject to certain conditions.  

If you have only read media coverage of the Liberal Party policy and have not read the actual policy, you will now be very confused. Media coverage of this policy has focused heavily on farmers saying they need access to Category C firearms, but as Police Tasmania’s website states, farmers are already eligible to obtain licences for these types of firearms.

The TCT has not seen figures of how many farmers currently hold Categrory C licences, but most commercial farmers and graziers, certainly those with the larger properties, do not cull wallabies themselves. Instead they hire commercial shooters who are more efficient and presumably the cost to farmers is off-set by increased production. The true agenda behind the policy becomes clear when you read key sections of the policy.

The policy proposes that ‘we will ensure the legislation’:

  • ‘provides for genuine employees to include contractors or agents of primary producers to be able to hold Category C licences for standard crop protection and pest control purposes.’

  • ‘permits Category C holders or crop protection permit holders to own and use sound suppressors’.

Under existing legislation, primary producers and their employees are eligible for Category C licences (but not suppressors) and the policy proposes to broaden elligibility to include ‘contractors or agents of primary producers’. It also proposes to lower the income threshold for who is considered a commercial farmer. The TCT believes the change to include ‘contractors or agents’ will allow all recreational wallaby shooters (there were 7741 licences issues in 2017) who obtain permission to shoot on a farming property, permission to use these firearms and suppressors.

Apart from the increased threat to the community with thousands more people given access to these firearms, the TCT believes it will just lead to more wallabies being shot with no monitoring to determine whether use of these firearms will result in quick deaths, or whether a benefit exists in terms of farm productivity.

Given the strong concern that has been expressed in the broader Tasmanian community regarding increasing access to Category C firearms and suppressors, and the potential for many more wallabies and possums to be shot, it is critically important that there is evidence to justify these proposed changes. We have written to the Minister for Primary Industries, Sarah Courtney, to ask whether there is any evidence that the policy will result in a significant and measurable increase in the effective, efficiency and the humane treatment of browsing animals, as the policy does not refer to any such evidence.

We have also asked the minister what other actions the government intends to take to improve browsing animal control. Apart from the proposed changes to firearms legislation the only election promise made by the Liberal Party regarding browsing animals was to establish the Tasmanian Game Council to advise the minister on recreational hunting and browsing animal management. There was no commitment to more practical assistance.

The ministers initial response provided no answers but we have written again.

The Liberal Party did not offer any more funding for DPIPWE’s Browsing Animal Management Program (BAMP), which is an effective program that generally advocates non-lethal options ahead of lethal options. Apart from offering the use of 1080 poison, which we totally oppose, we generally think the BAMP is a good program and we have tried but failed to convince the last two governments to increase its funding.

Article by Peter McGlone - TCT Director

Image at top: wallabies in a paddock on Bruny Island. Photo by Elisavet Spanou