A rural-based, populist political party that has defied the odds to establish a firm foothold in NSW state politics now has the ACT in its sights.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party has registered to be a political party in the ACT and is preparing to run candidates in the 17 October Legislative Assembly elections.
Founded in 1992 in response to the then-NSW premier Barry Unsworth’s plans to tighten gun laws, the party has broadened its appeal by tapping into general discontent in rural Australia about the loss of services and perceived neglect from the major political parties.
In NSW it has taken seats off the National Party and now has three lower house seats and two upper house ones. It also has one upper house seat in Victoria and Western Australia.
If the party’s application is approved, it will have branches in all states and territories. The ACT will be the last jurisdiction in which it will have a presence, although that has been more by chance than design, according to NSW State Director Filip Despotoski.
Mr Despotoski said the party was in the process of formulating specific ACT policies but voters should look to what it had done in NSW, Victoria and WA as a guide
He said the party had prospered due to a massive team effort, strong leaders, and a growing constituency and demographic, particularly in rural areas, who are sick of the major parties, ”particularly the National Party, who we think are just a rubber stamp and give the Liberals a free go at everything, and haven’t stuck up for the bush enough”, he said.
As examples, Mr Despotoski cites decisions on greyhound racing, council amalgamations, lack of spending in the bush, water policy, farmers’ rights and the lack of health infrastructure in the regions.
Mr Despotoski said NSW was governed by a self-serving Liberal-National Government that only cared about itself and its North Shore power base.
He said the party was much more than a libertarian, rural protest outfit.
”Only a few weeks ago we decided to vote to stop the public sector wage freeze [in NSW]. That has not much to do with shooting, fishing and farming but it was still, nonetheless, a very important policy decision, and there are a million and one examples of that over the past 25 years,” he said.
But two years ago Shooters MPs also shot down the Victorian Government’s political donation laws, saying they would disadvantage small parties.
He did not think the ‘shooters’ tag would be a turn-off for ACT voters.
”We’re very proud to represent all law-abiding firearms owners,” Mr Despotoski said. ”We support changes to the gun laws in line with our policy.”
That policy does not support US-style gun laws but does back the right to protect family and home, and self-defence using firearms and the expansion of shooting ranges. It also wants tougher penalties for the illegal use of firearms and a permanent gun amnesty so people can surrender their weapons.
Probably not a high-order issue for ACT voters, but the party pitches itself as a group of non-politicians who argue that the main parties have let down their constituencies.
Mr Despotoski said the elected members were ”down-to-earth people, not politicians, which is probably why they are there”.
”We’re hoping that has been seen and that will be reflected across the ACT and Australia,” he said.
“We’re far off reaching our full potential. We’re still growing, still a minor party and we’ll make mistakes but we’ll learn from those, and never sell out our constituency or the people we purport to represent, which is a hell of a lot more than the major parties can say.”
Mr Despotoski said the party had not decided what to do about preferences in the ACT.
”People get caught up with preferencing like it’s the old days of parties in back-room deals. Now it’s a recommendation,” he said.
In the Eden-Monaro by-election, the party preferenced Labor’s Kristy McBain ahead of Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs and it may have been the deciding factor for the ALP. SFF Eden-Monaro candidate Matthew Stadtmiller received around 5.4 per cent of the primary vote; SFF NSW leader Robert Borsak told The Australian he estimated up to 60 per cent of Shooters preferences flowed to Ms McBain.