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Senator criticises John Tingle and the Shooters Party; John Tingle responds

ELLEN FANNING: The Prime Minister, John Howard, returned from Port Arthur yesterday determined to push for a total ban on military-style weapons. But, in the end, it's not up to him to put in place measures that many believe could prevent a repeat of the massacre in Tasmania. The banning of semi-automatic and automatic weapons, as well as the establishment of a national register of guns, is a matter for the States. Well, the issue will be put to a meeting of State Police Ministers next week. Mr Howard will chair that meeting. And we're hoping to speak to the Queensland Police Minister, Russell Cooper later on A.M.

But so far the debate over gun law reform has been subdued, but now a South Australian Labor Senator has weighed in, singling out one New South Wales politician, John Tingle, of the Shooters Party. Senator Schacht says Mr Tingle, his party and the gun lobby have to take responsibility for intimidating politicians into not reforming the gun laws. Michael Cavanagh's report begins with Chris Schacht's address to the Senate last night.


CHRIS SCHACHT: And the argument that we hear from the Shooters Party and their ilk that it's not the guns that kill people, it's the people themselves, is a fallacious argument. I say, quite bluntly, in this place: I hope John Tingle, who is a Member of Parliament for the Shooters Party in New South Wales, I hope he recognises what his party has wrought on Australia by following these policies.

MICHAEL CAVANAGH: Former Labor Federal Government Minister and now Opposition Communications spokesperson, Senator Chris Schacht, upping the ante in the gun control debate. Since the Port Arthur killings on Sunday, politicians from all sides have displayed a measured approach with no blame being apportioned. But John Tingle and the Shooters Party has now been targeted by the Senator, and John Tingle as a representative of the Shooters Party was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1995 and is one of that State's Independent politicians holding the balance of power in the Upper House.

Mr Tingle's party has the backing of groups such as the Australian Sporting Shooters Association, which has continually lobbied against further regulation of fire arms. Senator Schacht says it's groups such as this which have influenced politicians' thinking.


CHRIS SCHACHT: I think that that party and the lobby groups that they represent have to take some responsibility for conducting a political campaign to intimidate politicians that they can't carry out suitable, proper reform of the gun laws of this country.

ELLEN FANNING: Chris Schacht speaking in the Senate last night.

Well, we're joined now by John Tingle of the Shooters Party. Mr Tingle, good morning.

JOHN TINGLE: Good morning.

ELLEN FANNING: Do you accept responsibility for intimidating politicians into not reforming gun laws in Australia?

JOHN TINGLE: Before I answer that question, I just want to clarify one thing. I understand that it's been reported that I have previously declined to appear on this program this morning. That is absolutely untrue. Until 15 minutes ago I was asleep. I was taken from Parliament House last night to Sydney Hospital suffering exhaustion and I have been under medication. I didn't ....

ELLEN FANNING: Well, we did call your home last night, Mr Tingle, and I'm told now that we were told that you were unavailable for interview and that we were told that again this morning, that you were sick and that you were unavailable for comment.

JOHN TINGLE: All right. I just want to clarify that point. No, I don't accept responsibility. I mean, I don't expect anything better than this from Chris Schacht, unfortunately, and he's talking absolute rubbish. For a start - and let me clarify a couple of things that were said in that report - we do not have the backing of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. They are quite opposed to our very moderate approach to gun laws because they are a much more gung ho group than we will ever be. We have never said as a slogan, as Chris Schacht suggested, that 'guns don't kill, people do'. We have said people use guns to kill people. We are not a redneck organisation.

He is also accusing us of having stopped various State governments around this country from enacting important laws. I would point out, because he probably doesn't know it, that South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and the Northern Territory all have things such as registration which he seems to think are important. We have been a one-State party here in New South Wales until about 12 months ago when some other State branches were formed.

ELLEN FANNING: Do you support the banning of semi-automatic and automatic weapons in Australia?

JOHN TINGLE: We have always supported the banning of automatic weapons, by which you mean machine guns, and I have been critical of Tasmania's laws for quite a long time. I have been asked many times whether we should have national uniform gun laws and I have said yes, depending on the model we adopt. What would happen though, I have said, if we adopted the awful laws in Tasmania? The thing is that semi-automatic firearms are virtually banned throughout Australia now.

ELLEN FANNING: Well, they're not virtually banned, are they? Somebody got hold of one in Tasmania and killed 35 people with it on Sunday.

JOHN TINGLE: .... they are not banned in Tasmania. Tasmania has gun laws which I have described repeatedly as a national disgrace. You can own a machine gun in Tasmania. Nobody with a responsible attitude towards shooting needs a machine gun. But semi-automatic weapons are banned in the other States of Australia.

ELLEN FANNING: Well, the Police Ministers are meeting next week, on Friday of next week. Would you urge them at that meeting to all support a ban on semi-automatic and automatic weapons in Australia?

JOHN TINGLE: Yes, of course I would because the ban already exists. The place that needs to have it added to it is Tasmania. So I mean the question is, with great respect, rather pointless. What they are going to be looking at, which they think is most important, is a national gun register. Well, if they want to have that, so be it.

ELLEN FANNING: Do you support that?

JOHN TINGLE: No, only because it won't work. It never has worked. Registration hasn't worked anywhere, and the reason I don't support it because what I am worried about is that they bring in the register - and if they do it of course we'll accept it - but then they sit back and think that they've solved the problem, and they haven't. And if they don't do anything more than that we're going to get another of these massacres very, very soon.

In addition to bringing in registers of guns, all they do is tell police who owns a particular gun, not where it is at a particular time, doesn't stop the gun from being used in crime or violence. What they also have to look at - and I've been calling for this for at least six or seven years - is why it is that in the last 10 years Australia has become a society which is so ready to resort to violence - by picking up a gun or any other legal instrument if it comes to that - and involving itself in these sorts of mass killings, presumably because the person who does it thinks it's going to solve his problems. It's a half-way measure, it's a panacea.

ELLEN FANNING: We don't know what sort of guns are in Australia. Nobody knew that the alleged gunman in Tasmania had this gun.

JOHN TINGLE: Of course they did.

ELLEN FANNING: They knew he had the gun?

JOHN TINGLE: Of course they did. He used to shoot the thing off at night. Now, I mean, this brings back the question of Tasmanian laws and it brings back the question of why the police in Tasmania, hearing reports that he was walking around at night firing off the gun and threatening people with it, didn't go and see him, realise he didn't have a licence and didn't confiscate all his guns.

ELLEN FANNING: Isn't a way to begin with this a national register to figure out who owns what? I mean, what is the problem with property owners and with sporting shooters going down to the local police station and saying: Listen, I've got these guns, this is where they are, this is where I keep them. Let's start to keep track of these things.

JOHN TINGLE: Nothing wrong with that at all, and they will do it. But the trouble is in New South Wales for instance, where it is believed that there are a million people who own guns, we only have 150,000 shooter licences on issue. And it's naive to suggest that all the other people who have guns that nobody knows about are also going to go along and register them. I have no problem with that. What I am concerned about is that if they get a register up and really think they have every firearm in this country registered and therefore don't do anything else, they're going to fail dismally.

ELLEN FANNING: Well, a group that ultimately became a part of your Shooters Party put out a brochure boasting about the demise of the Unsworth Government over the issue of gun law reform. Doesn't that tend to support the idea that people like you and your party have intimidated politicians into not reforming gun laws in Australia?

JOHN TINGLE: Well, in any other circumstances it would be flattering to think we had that much influence. We don't. We have never claimed as a party, and I have never claimed as a person that the Unsworth Government was defeated in 1988 by shooters. It was going down anyway. The shooting fraternity, which was angry with it, just made that defeat worse. But I don't think governments are intimidated. Since I've been in Parliament, I have worked very closely with the Premier and the Police Minister on making gun laws much more effective.

ELLEN FANNING: But how could they not be intimidated when the Sporting Shooters Association and the gun lobby generally says: Now listen, if you try to reform these laws we will campaign against you in marginal seats; we will really hit you where it hurts if you try to do this?

JOHN TINGLE: Well, I don't know what the Sporting Shooters Association does. We certainly haven't been doing it. I mean, I say again, I believe that I represent the moderate gun owners of this country and what we have been doing is, instead of threatening the Government - and you're quite welcome to check this with the Premier - I have made a number of submissions to this Government on ways that gun laws can be made more effective, that guns can be kept out of the hands of the wrong people and that we can reduce the use of firearms in crime and violence, because that's what we're about. I am only here to represent the people who do obey the law and do have licences for their guns. I'm certainly not here to support the others.

ELLEN FANNING: But doesn't the entire gun lobby create a perception, create a climate of intimidation for politicians? I mean, that's what your designed to do, ensure that the rights of shooters are represented. And if the rights of shooters are represented within the Parliament, then that creates a powerful lobby group, does it not?

JOHN TINGLE: The rights of licensed shooters, let me just make that point. It's very important to understand that we represent only the people who are obeying the law. I am one politician in a Parliament of 141 people. It's ridiculous to suggest that I, in fact, could intimidate both the parties. I mean, if they wanted to get together and act in a bipartisan way, which is what Bob Carr insists they must do, they could roll me into the ground. I know that. And being a journalist and a politician, what I have been trying to do is to end this adversarial thing between the Government and shooters and work out some sort of system where we can work together so that the licensed shooters prevail and the yahoos go down.

ELLEN FANNING: We're about to speak to Russell Cooper, the Queensland Police Minister. What would be your message to him on the issue of military-style weapons and a gun register?

JOHN TINGLE: Nobody needs military-style weapons in this country with the single possible exception of people who are members of military rifle clubs who act under the Commonwealth Defence Act. Nobody else needs a military-style weapon, which is to say a firearm which is designed for military purposes. If they want a gun which has those sorts of capacities, there are perfectly good sporting versions of those which are perhaps in the minds of many people much less offensive weapons which are available.

ELLEN FANNING: Mr Tingle, we thank you for your time this morning.