Malabar Saved; Who To Thank?

September 21, 2007

About three weeks ago rifle clubs received written confirmation that the Federal Government had agreed to permit shooting groups to continue to use the range at Malabar. A new licence will be entered into and, it appears, tenure is secure.

Since then I have looked for reports in the media or shooting forums. Perhaps I’ve missed them, but I have seen nothing. Very curious.

The news is enormously significant. Thousands of shooters use Malabar, not least the NSW Rifle Association which conducts the Queens competition each year. Other rifle clubs and disciplines, shotgunners and pistol shooters rely on it as well. Security of tenure will allow them to refurbish facilities knowing they will not be forced to abandon them.

The saga leading to this outcome is long and tortuous. The NSW Rifle Association virtually bankrupted itself unsuccessfully trying to have the order to vacate the range overturned in the courts. Politicians at both the federal and state level, Liberal and Labor, were lobbied. Quite a few people, John Tingle among them, declared it a lost cause.

Yet the reason for the backdown was simple pragmatism.

Being a former rubbish dump, much of the range is unsuitable for the kind of tourist development the government originally envisaged. That made it a lot less attractive to sell.

Someone also convinced the government that to close Malabar without providing an alternative venue for the Queens would be like closing Bondi Beach. The Queens requires 800 metres, which meant there was nowhere suitable in the Sydney area.

For some time it looked like the site would be handed over to the State government. If the Liberals had won the NSW election, that’s possibly what would have happened. However, the Labor government had indicated it would use it for other types of recreation than target shooting. The Federal Government was not keen to give it any help with that.

Enter John Howard’s chief political boofhead, Bill Heffernan; the guy who told Howard after Port Arthur to follow the advice of the CWA on gun laws. He may not be the brightest star in the sky, but he has enough of a political nose to see a way of winning back a few shooters votes. Knowing the Liberals/Nationals lost a lot of shooters votes due to Howard’s gun laws, and are now facing probable electoral defeat, he decided it was time for another type of pragmatism.

This is probably the first time since 1996 that shooters have won something on the basis of their political significance, certainly at the federal level.

It also means the people who deserve praise for the outcome are not the timid and ineffectual leaders of most of the various shooting organisations, but the small number of individuals who convinced Heffernan and a few others there were plenty of shooters out there with a baseball bat in their pocket just itching for the chance to use it on Howard and his henchmen. (I’m one of them, as the LDP candidate for Bennelong.)

I don’t know who they are, so I can only congratulate them anonymously. I’m simply glad that, back in 2004, I got the chance to tell Heffernan myself about what shooters thought of Howard. It sure feels good now.