The weaponisation of our economy, police, polity and society continues apace. What was once extreme is becoming normalised, as military industries become more embedded and seek new ways to camouflage their real business, which is ‘Crapitalism’ #NotDefence. Small business in Australia is being groomed by the world’s largest corporations, who have been given special status and lots of money by the Australian government to export weapons.
Queensland company Nioa is something of a case study, having evolved from a small regional ammunition retailer to Australia’s largest privately owned firearms and munitions supplier. New partnerships with Rheinmetall and US Winchester, encouraged and financially supported by state and federal governments, bring Nioa into the global supply chain of #WarProfiteers.
Australian Gun Laws: Nioa also features in a report by Bill Brown for the Australia Institute commissioned by Gun Control Australia. The report reveals that an NRA style gun lobby is flourishing in Australia. According to Sam Lee president of Gun Control Australia, this lobby “. . . has deep pockets, extensive networks and parliamentary representation” and aims “ . . . to dismantle our gun laws. Gun laws that have kept Australians safe for decades.” Hinman writing in Green Left makes the important point that 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 Australia Institute report summarises the modus operandi of the gun lobby through which “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.” Brown notes that firearms suppliers and their peak bodies and members’ associations (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.” The report found the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA) had almost as many members, per capita, as the National Rifle Association (NRA), with almost 200,000 members — or about 0.8 per cent of the population.The SSAA has an estimated combined income of $18 million per year.
Shooting Industry Foundation: The other big player in the Australian gun lobby is the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA), the peak body for the firearms industry. According to the report, it received $1.2 million from its corporate members 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. It will come as no surprise then that according to available data, (covering the period 2011 to 2018) Katter’s Australian Party received the largest amount of political donations, amounting to $808,000, and that most of these donations came from Mr Nioa and SSAA Qld.
The Shooters Party’s state and federal branches received the second-most disclosed political donations, totalling almost $700,000, most of these donations 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 got $37,000 from Mr Nioa and SSAA, while the Nationals, the ALP and Country Alliance all received between $30,000 and $40,000.
Political Advertising: The report stressed that much of the gun lobby’s political spending is in the form of election campaigns that are not necessarily captured by disclosure laws. SIFA was the fourth-largest gun lobby donor in the period 2011-2018 and while it only donated $64,000 to political parties, it spent $750,000 on two recent state election campaigns alone. The Flick ‘Em campaign during the 2017 Queensland election and the Not. Happy. Dan campaign during the 2018 Victorian state election.
Like political advertising funded by the NRA in the US, ads used in these elections did not specifically mention guns, instead covering topics like crime rates, electricity costs and job shortages. The ads campaigned against the major parties and encouraged votes for the minor parties. According to the report “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.” Hinman reminds us that the idea that more guns equal more protection for citizens is another US import that should be rejected, along with the manipulation of fear or calls for more “law and order” policies and further militarisation of the police “that only encourages the greater use of guns rather than deploy other, non-combat, tactics.”
The Australian gun lobby runs political campaigns and lobbies politicians and journalists, but it attracts little attention in Australia because it keeps its operations low key. Gun lobby political advertising in recent years has mostly avoided mentioning firearms or gun control at all. Messaging continues to perpetuate the idea that shooting organisations are socially appropriate and even have positive social benefits. According to an ABC investigation, Senator Bridget McKenzie, the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting, remarked 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.” Ms McKenzie attended a gun expo in 2018 where she announced a study into the social and economic benefits of the shooting sports in Australia. 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 gun manufacturers and importers spend big dollars to exert influence. Guns are big business and strong gun laws are bad for business, “to put it simply, if you weaken gun laws, you can sell more guns.” The Australia Institute believes that because the gun lobby in Australia would “face stiff opposition to talk of relaxing gun laws, it has concentrated instead on ‘pushing the boundaries’ of the National Firearms Act” (NFA). This includes trying to justify legalising a new gun on the basis of “new technology” and using that as “the new benchmark for why slightly more powerful or faster guns should be legal.”
NIOA is a good example, as Australia’s largest supplier of firearms, optics, ammunition and accessories to the Australian shooter, it represents in excess of 50 international suppliers including household names like, Federal and CCI ammunition, Ruger, Anschutz, Leupold, Bushnell, Colt, Glock and many more. Nonetheless, NIOA promotes itself as a model Queensland citizen. The company was awarded Prime Contractor of the Year and Land Business of the Year in Defence Connect’s – Australian Defence Industry Awards. Director Robert Nioa waxed lyrical about this “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.”
Nioa is a major sponsor of Land Forces 2021: Making a Killing at the Killer Expo
Christopher Pyne in the revolving door: Who would think they made things that kill – munitions, bullets and automatic machine-gun chains for export, including ammunition for the US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme. For NIOA this could be an opportune moment, with both the government defence export strategy and the increasing militarisation of police forces being potentially advantageous for this armaments and arms manufacturer. The company has also had a productive association with Christopher Pyne, who in January 2018, while Minister for Defence, announced the award of a $100 million Federal government contract by the Commonwealth under the LAND 17-1C.2 Future Artillery Ammunition program. In 2020 he was welcomed as the chairman of the company’s inaugural advisory board. NIOA were apparently “delighted” that he had accepted the position “at an important time for the company and the future of Australia’s sovereign military capability.
Meanwhile NIOA, and other defence contractors, have big fish to fry as well and they are doing it in a neighbourhood near you. NIOA is part of the rapidly developing weapons industry in Brisbane and they have benefited financially from being part of the Global Supply Chain Program. Since 1918 NIOA has received millions in grants and contracts from Federal and State governments. Partnerships also bring co-funding, for example with global corporates like Rheinmetall, or as the ‘weaponised partner’ to Australian company Skyborne who manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) such as the Cerberus GL. The new joint venture Rheinmetall-NIOA Munitions set to make bullets and automatic machine-gun chains for export, including ammunition for the US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme, received $28.5 million from the Federal Government’s Regional Growth Fund for the construction of it’s ‘projectile forging plant’ in Maryborough. These ‘donations’ from the public purse, cover years of corporate donations and leave plenty free to further fund the ‘gun lobby’.
We presume the new GSCP partnership ‘Rheinmetall NIOA Munitions’ is set to cut in on Thales Australian munitions sales to Indonesia. Indonesia’s military is implicated in human rights abuses in West Papua.
When ordinary citizens take action on sites such as the NIOA factory it provides concrete information about the real people going about their everyday preparation for war crimes. This action by Wage Peace at Pinkenba, draws attention to the fact that NIOA is not just a typical Queensland company and helps to expose the weapons companies’ interest in promoting violent conflicts to sell their products.
This year weapons companies will be pushing for contracts and dealing with dictators at Land Forces, a massive land-weapons trade event in Brisbane in June 2021.
Truly they are #WarProfiteers, with their sights set on #MakingaKilling.
Blucher, A & Knowles, L. (2019, March, 27). Australian gun lobby as big and cashed-up as NRA, report finds. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Brown, B (2019). Point blank Political strategies of Australia’s gun lobby (Discussion Paper).
Defence Connect (2020, 2 December). NIOA Welcomes Former Defence Minister to Head Advisory Board [Media Release]
Goldsworthy, T (2018, 6 April). Australia should be wary of the rise of the ‘warrior cop’, with military-style weapons to match. ABC – The Conversation.
Hinman, P. (2019). Guns and politics: The manipulation of political will. Green Left Weekly, (1216), 10.
Leung, J (2019, 20 February). Skyborne Opens Defence R&D Facility in Murarrie. Skyborne Technologies. www.skybornetech.com
NIOA (2020, 27 November) NIOA Claims Prestigious Defence Industry Awards. NIOA [Media release].
Regional Growth Fund. (2019). Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communication.
The Australia Institute. (2019, March 27). Australian Gun Lobby as Large as US Gun Lobby [Media release].
A version of this article was published in Green Left Weekly as Nioa Munitions and how public money funds the gun lobby