Roy Smith's inaugural speech in the NSW Parliament, May 30th 2007

The PRESIDENT: I call the Hon. Roy Smith and remind all members that he is about to make his first speech in this place. I ask that all the customary courtesies be extended.

The Hon. ROY SMITH [4.35 p.m.] (Inaugural Speech): I support the Transport Administration Amendment (Portfolio Minister) Bill 2007. As the President has been kind to acknowledge, this is my inaugural speech in this House, and, of course, there are many people I wish to thank—my friends and colleagues in the Shooters Party, my parliamentary colleague Robert Brown, and John Tingle, the Shooters Party's founder and its first parliamentary representative. Both Robert and I and the Shooters Party members who follow us, owe much to John, who, in his time in Parliament, earned the respect of members on all sides of the House. In doing so he has made the task for those who come after him so much easier than that which must have confronted him when he was elected in 1995.

Indeed, it is appropriate to point out that 22 May marked the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of the Shooters Party. I take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported the party in that time, especially the members and supporters whose votes on 24 March this year resulted in my election and the doubling of the party's representation in this place. I owe a very special thanks to my friends and colleagues in the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia [SSAA], particularly my friend and mentor, Bill Shelton, the association's president. Bill has been my friend and mentor since I first joined the association's executive. He and I have spent many hours together planning, and plotting, to do our best to defend the rights of legitimate sports men and women from the incessant attacks of the anti-gun brigade and those who simply do not know better.

Of course, those to whom I owe the most are my family—my wife Pauline, the love of my life and my partner in life's adventures; my mother and father; my sons, Carl and Nicolas, and their wives, Lis and Lisa; and my grandchildren MacKenzie and Jackson. I thank them for their support, their tolerance of my passion for shooting, and especially for their love. My mum and dad were hardworking parents and often put the whims and wants of their two sons before their own needs. I remember my childhood with great fondness. Home was a fibro cottage that Mum and Dad had bought in Regents Park when I was about four years old. It was there that I enjoyed a very happy and uncomplicated childhood with my brother, Michael.

My primary school years were spent at St Peter Chanel at Berala and my high school years were spent at Benedict College at Auburn. I owe much to the nuns, the Marist Brothers and the lay teachers who taught me during those years. My working life commenced in 1972 as an apprenticed electrical fitter-mechanic with Email-Westinghouse. In those days the apprenticeship scheme was an excellent vehicle through which tens of thousands of young men and women gained both theoretical and practical skills. In those days the Australian workforce maintained a skills base that was second to none.

Sadly, due to a host of factors over the past few decades, employers have offered only a fraction of the number of apprenticeships previously available, and the skills base of our work force has suffered accordingly. I am pleased to note, however, that both the federal and state governments are now working to address that situation.

Pauline and I married in August 1975. We had our first son five years later. Our first home was a small cottage in a new estate at Colyton near St Marys. Our mortgage, modest by today's standards, was around $25,000, and the interest rate was 5 per cent. Of course, it soon rose to 17 per cent. We managed, but only just. Soon after moving into our new home I decided that working for a boss had too many limitations and that we would be better off working for ourselves. So in 1979 Pauline and I started a small electrical contracting business. Over the next 17 years we experienced the boom and bust nature of the building industry and the trials and tribulations of Australia's small business operators, who employed almost 50 per cent of our work force.

My years as a small business operator and employer made be acutely aware of the ever-increasing burden of government bureaucracy and the mountains of red tape that small business is forced to bear. But, as anyone who has been self-employed knows, there are both pluses and minuses to being your own boss. For me, one of those pluses was that it enabled me to pursue my passion for shooting and I, along with my family, travelled extensively throughout Australia competing in target shooting competitions with the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia [SSAA].

My passion for hunting and target shooting goes back to my early teens. I purchased my first air rifle when I was 14 years old. A licence was not required back then. When I was 16 years old I travelled into Sydney and purchased my first .22 from Mick Smith's George Street gun shop. I did not need a licence for that either, but I did have to prove that I was 16 years of age. Around that time I also joined Blacktown Rifle Club and purchased a .303. The club shot on the Prospect rifle range and every Saturday I would travel with my rifle to and from Wentworthville by train. Funnily, I cannot remember anyone ever batting an eye.

I was, of course, one of only hundreds of thousands of people who owned firearms, yet I cannot remember any massacres or tragedies on the scale of which we have seen in more recent times. But those days were different. It was common for young boys to have a BB gun or an air rifle. We also had cracker night and real crackers, and nearly every young boy had a pocket-knife. It seems to me that in those days kids were given responsibility a little at a time, and if they did the wrong thing they suffered accordingly. Other kids of my generation and I enjoyed the benefit of learning from our mistakes as we grew up. If we were too slow to learn, the odd smack, a few cuts of the cane, or a timely kick up the bottom from the local cop did our learning capacity wonders.

Nowadays we do not trust our kids with BB guns; they are not responsible enough. We do not trust our kids with crackers; they are not responsible enough. We do not trust our kids with pocket-knives; they are not responsible enough. It seems to me that for far too many young kids the first time they are given any real responsibility is when they are handed the keys to the car, often with disastrous results. But I digress. I was speaking of my passion for the shooting sports.

I joined the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia in 1978, hunting when I could and competing on the range when I could not get away to the bush. During that time I also became heavily involved in club administration, which in 1994 led me to the opportunity of employment with the association in the capacity as New South Wales executive officer. It never occurred to me then that working for the SSAA could lead to where I stand today. I well remember an occasion not long after I had commenced working for the SSAA. I was talking to Ted Drane, who, at that time, was the association's national president. I was lamenting my frustration and the lack of progress I was having in my dealings with the police ministry in trying to get it to agree to some sensible amendments to the firearms regulation.

Ted said to me, "Roy, you are much the same as I was when I was younger. You think that, because you know the truth, once you explain the facts to people they will all be happy to agree with you." He said, "Roy, you have a lot to learn." He was right, of course, and I am still learning. I can remember as a kid my grandfather often qualified his statements by saying, "I read it in the paper." If it was in the paper it had to be true. Sadly, the days when we could rely on what we read in our newspapers as being an objective report of the facts are long gone.

These days, media bias is endemic. Sensationalism is what boosts ratings and circulation. Unfortunately, the plain truth is not interesting enough. I am particularly concerned by the practice of some sections of the media unashamedly stirring up public emotion on major issues in an attempt to force the Government to act, hailing themselves as champions of truth and justice when more often their real motivation is circulation, ratings, or simply politics.

Granted, there may be the odd occasion when the government of the day may need some prodding, but more and more often we see emotionally charged media campaigns forcing governments to make rash, politically motivated decisions when society would be far better served by a more calm and rational debate than that which so often takes place on talkback radio, or on the front pages of some newspapers.

Today's gun laws are, of course, a perfect example of legislation born of emotion instead of rational, evidence-based policymaking. The real tragedy of basing government policy and legislation on emotion, ideology or media-driven public opinion, is that billions of dollars can be wasted and achieve little or no real benefit, when instead they could have been spent on other areas and achieved some real and lasting benefit. The push for ever tougher gun laws is a case in point. We all want tough gun laws, especially law-abiding gun owners, but what we need are tough gun laws that target criminals, not sports men and women, people on the land, or others with a legitimate need to own firearms.

In recent years, both federal and state governments have wasted billions of dollars on ineffective gun laws that have done little to prevent crime or catch criminals. Instead, they tie up thousands of man hours in bureaucratic red tape, overregulating shooters and shooting clubs, registering BB guns, and counting the number of times target shooters visit shooting ranges. In New South Wales the waste continues at the rate of millions of dollars every year—dollars that would be far better used in employing more front-line police.

Of course, it is not only legitimate firearms owners who are victims of ever-increasing restrictions on their legitimate activities. Today, both fresh and saltwater anglers are finding that they, too, are coming under continuous scrutiny, increasing regulation, and restriction. First, we saw the introduction of compulsory licences for freshwater anglers—the justification being that licence fees are necessary to ensure the maintenance of fish stocks. We have since seen the expansion of the licence regime to include saltwater anglers—the justification being that the licence fees are necessary to ensure the maintenance of fish stocks.

Now we have the introduction of marine parks and conservation areas and anglers are losing much of their most popular fishing spots to no-take zones, again to ensure the maintenance of fish stocks. The overwhelming majority of anglers, like hunters, are responsible conservationists. We support reasonable regulations but they must be based on sound evidence, not emotion or ideology. There is simply insufficient evidence to show that excluding recreational anglers from no-take zones will have any significant impact on fish stocks.

Shooters originally established the Shooters Party to defend the rights of law-abiding firearms owners and users. But the Shooters Party is not, and has never been, just about guns. The Shooters Party is about defending the rights and freedoms of responsible, law-abiding people—whether they be shooters, anglers, four-wheel drivers or other outdoor enthusiasts—whose rights and freedoms are being unreasonably impeded.

The Shooters Party has a number of important goals it would like to achieve in the next few years. We will be seeking amendments to those aspects of the current firearms legislation that unreasonably restrict legitimate firearm owners but do nothing to enhance public safety. For example, we will be seeking amendments to the requirement by which firearms licence holders must undergo a 28-day cooling-off period for every firearm they wish to acquire. The cooling-off period should apply only to an initial acquisition, not to every subsequent acquisition.

The current requirement does nothing to enhance public safety and is only another layer of bureaucratic red tape that restricts the legitimate activities of already licensed firearm owners. The Shooters Party will also pursue the reintroduction of science-based duck and quail seasons and the expansion of the highly successful Game Council model to include conservation hunting in national parks.

The Shooters Party will also seek to end the unconscionable waste that takes place each year whereby kangaroos culled under the non-commercial tag system administered by the New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service are left to rot in paddocks and feed the growing numbers of feral animals across New South Wales. Kangaroos must be managed and culling is unavoidable, but hunters must, where practical, be permitted to utilise the meat and skins of animals culled and not be forced to leave culled kangaroos to rot in the field.

Target shooting is a popular and international sport, and we will work towards removing the current difficulties faced by new shooters who wish to try the shooting sports. Our football, cricket and tennis stars commenced their sporting careers at school, and we believe our young shooters should be given the same opportunity in their sport. We will pursue the reintroduction of shooting sports and firearms safety programs into the public schools sports programs. As I mentioned earlier, the Shooters Party is not just about guns. We believe the current marine parks legislation impacts unreasonably on recreational fishing, and we will be urging the Government to review the legislation at the earliest opportunity. Mr President, in conclusion, I thank you and my fellow members for this indulgence this afternoon. It is a tremendous honour to be elected to this place and I look forward to spending the next eight years working with you all.