Nioa Munitions and how public money funds the gun lobby

Land Forces Expo will showcase weapons equipment, technology and services for armies.

The weaponisation of our economy, police, politics and society is becoming normalised. Military industries are becoming embedded in the Australian Defence Force and the economy, always seeking new ways to capitalise on war.

Businesses in Australia are being groomed by the world’s largest arms corporations. These mega-munitions businesses are given special status and enormous sums of money by the Australian government to export weapons. 

Queensland company Nioa is a case in point. It has evolved from a small regional ammunition retailer into the country’s largest privately-owned firearms and munitions supplier.

New partnerships with Rheinmetall and US Winchester, encouraged and financially supported by state and federal governments in Australia, took Nioa into the global arms supply chain.

Nioa also features in a report by Bill Brown for The Australia Institute commissioned by Gun Control Australia Point Blank — Political strategies of Australia’s gun lobby. It reveals that a National Rifle Association-style (NRA) gun lobby is flourishing here.

According to president of Gun Control Australia Sam Lee this lobby “has deep pockets, extensive networks and parliamentary representation” and aims “to dismantle our gun laws … that have kept Australians safe for decades”.

The Australia Institute report also notes that firearms suppliers and their affiliates, such as shooting and hunting clubs and gun advocates, have made significant political donations, run campaigns to influence voters and encouraged the election of pro-gun cross benchers.

It found the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (SSAA) had almost as many members, per capita, as the NRA in the United States, with almost 200,000 members and an estimated income of $18 million a year.

Green Left noted any dismantling of Australia’s gun laws would benefit the NRA because “the NRA has a material interest in Australia relaxing its gun laws, given that guns are mostly imported from the US — meaning that the profits would flow back to NRA members and supporters.

“The public will on firearms is being circumvented because firearms interest groups have made a concerted effort to undermine these laws and loosen state-level gun controls.” 

Shooting Industry Foundation

The other big shot in the Australian gun lobby is the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA), the peak body for the firearms industry. It received $1.2 million from between 2014 and late 2018.

One of its directors is Robert Nioa, Queensland firearms wholesaler and son-in-law of Bob Katter, leader of the Australian Party.

From 2011 to 2018, Katter’s Australian Party received $808,000 in political donations, most of which came from Nioa and SSAA Queensland.

The state and federal branches of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party received the second-largest disclosed political donations, totalling almost $700,000.  Most of that came from hunting clubs, the SSAA, SIFA and the Amateur Pistol Association.

The Liberal Party was a distant third, receiving $46,000 in donations from SIFA and defence contractor Thales.

The Liberal Democrats received $37,000 from Nioa and SSAA, while the Nationals, the Labor Party and Country Alliance all received between $30,000 and $40,000.

Much of the gun lobby’s spending is done in election campaigns.

SIFA was the fourth-largest gun lobby donor from 2011-2018 and, while it only donated $64,000 to political parties, it spent $750,000 on two state election campaigns — the “Flick 'Em” campaign in the 2017 Queensland election and the “Not. Happy. Dan!” campaign in the 2018 Victorian election.

Like political advertising funded by the NRA, the ads did not specifically mention guns. Instead, they focussed on crime rates, electricity costs and job shortages and encouraged votes for conservative minor parties.

“The strategy of the firearms industry running political campaigns that do not mention guns is an import from the United States, where it has been used extensively by the NRA,” the Australia Institute report said.

The lobbying and campaigning done by the Australian gun lobby stays largely under the radar. Its advertising in recent years has largely avoided mentioning firearms or gun control, instead pushing the line that shooting organisations are socially appropriate and have positive social benefits.

The ABC report on an investigation into Australia’s gun lobby found Senator Bridget McKenzie, chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting, remarking during her time as sports minister that: “This sport is a part of our heritage … it is in the top 10 medal sports in each and every Olympics for our country and that’s something we should be proud of, not something we should be scared of or afraid of.”

At a gun expo in 2018, McKenzie announced a study into the social and economic benefits of the shooting sports. 

She said she did not support a ban on political donations or “a political ban on any other sporting body that seeks to participate in the parliamentary democracy that we have here”.

The gun lobby, including manufacturers and importers, spend big dollars to exert influence. Guns are big money and strong gun laws are bad for business. 

The Australia Institute believes that because the gun lobby would face stiff opposition to talk of relaxing gun laws, it has concentrated instead on “pushing the boundaries” of the National Firearms Act, aiming to legalise increasingly powerful weapons.

There is also mounting concern over the militarisation of police

Model citizen?

NIOA is Australia’s largest supplier of firearms, optics, ammunition and accessories for shooters, and represents more than 50 international suppliers including Federal and CCI ammunition, Ruger, Anschutz, Leupold, Bushnell, Colt and Glock.

NIOA promotes itself as a model citizen. The company was awarded Defence Connect Prime Contractor of the Year and Land Business of the Year.

Nioa’s director said it was “a wonderful achievement for a Queensland firm” and professed his pride that “since our early days in regional Queensland, NIOA has been built on hard work, personal effort and trust, and these things are still the hallmark of the company”.

Many weapons companies will be looking for contracts at Land Forces, a trade event in Brisbane in June. NIOA and the Queensland government are major sponsors.

The expo comes at an opportune time for the arms industry — both the government defence export strategy and the increasing militarisation of police forces help build sales for manufacturers.

Christopher Pyne joins board

In January 2018, then minister for defence Christopher Pyne announced a $100 million federal government contract to NIOA under the LAND 17-1C.2 Future Artillery Ammunition program.

Last year, Pyne became chairperson of the company’s inaugural advisory board. NIOA was delighted he had accepted the position “at an important time for the company and the future of Australia’s sovereign military capability”.

Apart from grants and contracts from federal and state governments, partnerships with companies like Skyborne also attract co-funding. Skyborne manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Cerberus GL.

In a new joint venture, Rheinmetall-NIOA Munitions are set to make bullets and automatic machine-gun chains for export. This includes ammunition for the US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which received $28.5 million from the federal government’s Regional Growth Fund for the construction of its projectile forging plant in Maryborough.

The new partnership may be set to cut in on Thales’ Australian munitions sales to Indonesia whose military are implicated in human rights abuses in West Papua.

[This artice has been abridged from a background paper for Wage Peace which is calling on NIOA to rule out weapons sales to Indonesia. Wage Peace is organising to disrupt the Land Forces expo in Brisbane over June 1-3.]

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