Nationals Deputy Leader Senator Bridget McKenzie is a passionate advocate for legal firearms ownership, hunting and shooting sports and, during her time in the federal parliament, has frequently stuck her head above the parapet in defence of these activities, knowing full well critics would be waiting to take a pot shot.
The Nationals promised to conduct a national survey of shooting sports, not just replicating economic evaluations done in Victoria and New South Wales but extending the data to take in the social and health benefits.
Senator McKenzie commissioned the Department of Health’s Economic and Social impacts of Recreational Hunting and Shooting report when she was Minister for Sport.
It landed early in October and the positive outcomes were there for all to see.
An estimated 642 000 Australians who hunt and participate in shooting sports contribute more than $2.4 billion to Australia’s economy annually and generate an estimated 19 500 full-time jobs.
The gross contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or the economic footprint, from recreational hunting and sport shooting activity in Australia in 2018 was estimated to be $2.4 billion, comprising $0.8 billion directly and $1.6 billion as a result of flow-on economic activity.
“That’s money going into service stations, grocery shops, cafés, accommodation, hunting shops and other family owned businesses across the country. It translates to more than 19 000 jobs — many in rural and regional Australia,” Senator McKenzie said.
These are big numbers, and alone it makes for compelling reading, but the social and health implications added even more to the plus side of the ledger.
The report concluded that hunting and shooting provided an opportunity for participants to engage in physical activity and they were more likely to be active than the general population.
It also provided pathways to higher wellbeing for participants through nature connection, self-efficacy, social networks, physical activity and nutrition; again, hunters and shooters demonstrated higher levels of well-being than the general population.
However, the methodology didn’t allow the researchers to determine whether those positive outcomes were the result of correlation or causation: whether hunting and shooting is responsible for the higher levels of physical activity and wellbeing, or some other reason.
Without doing further research, it would be reasonably safe to assume most hunters and shooters don’t participate in the activity because they have a higher level of wellbeing, they have a higher level of wellbeing because they participate.
“Your readers have long experienced the benefits of recreational hunting and shooting in the outdoors,” Senator McKenzie said.
“There are significant health and wellbeing benefits, with the report finding hunters and shooters more likely to have higher physical activity than the general population while valuing the social connection, sense of achievement and time spent in nature.”
Predictably the study came under fire, with the outcomes and even the appropriateness of funding the study in the first place questioned; as if legal and responsible ownership of a firearm makes you unworthy.
It was best summed up by Senator McKenzie when she was subjected to a series of negative questions at a press conference while surrounded by leaders of shooting organisations and industry.
“If I was on a dock with fishing boats you would not be criticising me for standing next to the head of the fishing industry,” she said.
“If I was with farmers you wouldn’t be criticising me for standing with representatives of the food processing industry, the Food and Groceries Council etc. but because an industry that supports the jobs of more than 19 000 Australians somehow involves firearms, legally obtained and used and stored, the view that this is some sort of atrocity I find underlines the prejudice we are actually trying to highlight.”
Senator McKenzie said more than 16 000 people across the country participated in the study, well above expectations, and the findings are significant.
“Your readers should be proud of their contribution whether they participate at a recreational or elite level,” she said.
“Shooting is a sport we excel at internationally and it’s an important part of who we are as a nation. Yet despite the gold medals and sporting accolades, shooting and its participants are often marginalised. This report brings balance to the debate.
“It doesn’t matter whether your equipment is a bow, a knife or a gun — we need to continue promoting the benefits of our chosen activity that’s part of the fabric of Australian life.”
Senator McKenzie is co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting, which aims to raise awareness about sporting and recreational shooting.
“This report reinforces the significance of the industry and I hope you find it just as welcoming.”
Senator McKenzie is currently Minister for Agriculture, an industry that is fighting its own battles against extremist activism and a creeping minority agenda that aims to turn the tide of public opinion against the farming of meat.
In October the National Farmers Federation launched a counter-attack against animal activists, a five to 10-year campaign costing $10 million to shift the balance of public sentiment.
NFF president Fiona Simson told a gathering at the federal parliament that while research commissioned by the NFF had found Australians have a generally favourable impression of farmers and farming, the activism of animal rights campaigners and radical environmentalists had raised questions in their minds about farm practices.
It is a mirror of the firearm and hunting debates where even a positive story about $2.4 billion in economic benefit and happier healthier people is undermined by a small minority because it doesn’t suit their beliefs.