The Australian Shooters Party (ASP) will shortly be registered federally. It was deregistered in 2004, re-registered in 2006 and then deregistered along with all the minor parties late in 2006. Its imminent reregistration will allow it to enter the federal election if it so decides.
The last time the ASP stood candidates in a federal election was 1998 when it nominated candidates in Victoria for the Senate. In its home state of NSW it has not entered a federal election since the 1996 Lindsay by-election. Indeed, the reason it was de-registered in 2004, just a few weeks prior to the election in that year, was that it had not entered enough elections. Parties that do not contest elections for four years are automatically deregistered.
Federal elections have long been a sore point in the Shooters Party. Party founder and general political know-it-all John Tingle always regarded them as an utter waste of time from the party’s point of view. Some suspected this had more to do with fear of sharing the limelight, particularly since he had no objections to the party standing candidates in other states, but at least he was consistent. He opposed standing candidates in the Lindsay by-election, which occurred just a few months after Howard imposed his Port Arthur gun laws, and held to that view until recently.
Tingle’s refusal to allow the party to enter federal elections is what led to the departure of former Chairman David Leyonhjelm, who was consistently overruled on the issue. In 2004, with the ASP deregistered and unable to enter the election, Leyonhjelm decided to run a team of shooters for the Senate and four marginal seats using the Outdoor Recreation Party. Tingle was incensed and prevented the Shooters Party from providing any assistance (unlike the SSAA). At the following State Conference he orchestrated Leyonhjelm’s removal and to this day denies the fact that it was the votes of shooters that helped keep the Greens from gaining an extra seat in the Senate.
At the 2005 State Conference of the party, a motion calling on the party to contest the 2007 federal election was defeated by a margin of 30 to 1, Leyonhjelm’s vote being the only one in favour. Leyonhjelm did not renew his membership when it fell due that year but instead joined another small party, the Liberty and Democracy Party (LDP), where he is Treasurer.
Not surprisingly, the LDP has a policy on firearms that is equally as strong as that of the Shooters Party. The LDP is also about to achieve federal registration and intends to enter the federal election.
Recent comments by both John Tingle and Robert Brown on the Shooters Party website forum suggest the ASP is now proposing to nominate Senate candidates in NSW for the federal election.
The question that follows from this is, why now? Why not in 2001 and 2004? Has the party’s success in the NSW state election changed anything?
The arguments in favour of running are the same as they always have been. Shooters candidates consistently attract up to 2% of the vote. If leveraged the right way, that can deliver tremendous results. In 2004, Liberals for Forests candidate Glenn Druery came within 2073 votes of being elected to the Senate despite gaining just 21,185 primary votes or 0.5%. There are also numerous House of Reps seats where the margin is a lot less than 2% and preferences will decide the result.
Gun control has been a federal issue since 1996. With talk about a national gun registry, national training standards, Australia Post rules and Customs limits on what can be imported, it still is.
Against that, the Shooters Party still does not understand how the game is played. They have never tried to leverage preferences and, alone amongst nearly all the other small parties, consistently refuse to stand in lower house seats in State elections. Their “we are alone against the world” attitude prevents them from dealing pragmatically with other parties.
As a result, entering the federal election will achieve nothing. By not running in lower house seats, their Senate vote won’t be particularly strong. Even if they figured out how Senate preferences work, they wouldn’t do the deals required to get anywhere.
Entering the federal election will also cost money. Nomination fees are $750 per candidate (minimum of two required) and even a modest publicity campaign costs several thousand dollars. That money will inevitably come out of the campaign fund being built for the 2011 state election when Robert Brown will be seeking election in his own right. Brown is not the SSAA’s man, so he can’t expect to receive the support that Smith attracted. He will need the money.
Finally, entering the federal election will prompt some party members to ask why the idea was so wrong in 2004 that it led to the ostracism of David Leyonhjelm, but is now a good idea. Could it be that the quality of some ideas vary according to who is proposing them?
The ASP is likely to stand candidates in the federal election, for better or worse, because of the LDP. How can a party that claims to be fighting for the rights of shooters sit on its hands while another pro-gun party does the fighting? How do you keep faith with a constituency that expects you to fight every battle, if you leave it to others? How will it look at the state election in 2011 if the ASP hasn’t even put up a fight? These are the questions the ASP will have to answer if it sits on its hands yet again.
Nonetheless, given the ASP’s capabilities, Tingle was probably right all the time. It would have been a waste of time, and it still is. But that’s not so relevant any more. These are interesting times for the ASP.