The interim leader of the New South Wales Labor party has said she would support a ban on donations from the firearms lobby following revelations One Nation sought millions of dollars in donations from the US gun group the National Rifle Association.
On Tuesday, Penny Sharpe, who took over after the former leader Michael Daley stood aside, told Guardian Australia she would support an extension of existing bans on developers and the liquor and gaming industries to include gun groups.
“Gun laws in Australia cannot and must not be watered down,” she said. “Donations should play no role in any attempt to do so. I would support a ban.”
On Tuesday an al-Jazeera investigation revealed senior One Nation figures James Ashby and Steve Dickson had sought millions in donations from the NRA during a trip to the US last year in a bid to seize the balance of power and weaken Australia’s gun laws.
The report prompted an immediate backlash in Australia and placed increased pressure on the prime minister, Scott Morrison, to rule out preference deals with the far-right party at the May federal election.
In a text message on Tuesday, Ashby told Guardian Australia that “no money was ever received or offered” from either the NRA or Koch Industries.
At a news conference alongside Dickson later in the day, the two men said they had travelled to the US to learn about the NRA’s campaigning tactics and had only discussed donations in the context of a drinking session.
“I will be the first to admit, we’d arrived in America, we got on the sauce, we’d had a few drinks and that’s where those discussions took place,” Ashby said.
One Nation is one of several rightwing parties to have received thousands of dollars in donations from the Australian gun lobby in recent years as part of a push to pursue changes to firearm laws established after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.
In the past decade, pro-gun groups have been able to use ballooning membership numbers – ironically won as an unintended consequence of John Howard’s changes after Port Arthur – to flex their political muscles.
Groups including the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia and the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of One Nation, Katter’s Australian party and the Liberal Democrats, among others.
In 2017, Australian gun lobby groups spent more than $500,000 helping minor rightwing parties, including One Nation, win seats in the Queensland state election.
In NSW, developers and the liquor and gaming industry are all banned from donating to political parties but pro-gun groups have continued to pour money into the state.
The Shooters Fishers and Farmers party received more than $35,000 in donations from gun groups before Saturday’s NSW state election, helping the party secure three seats in the state’s lower house, as well as its two upper-house members.
At Saturday’s state election, the Coalition managed to hold on to a wafer-thin majority but the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has said she wants to work closely with the three independent crossbench MPs in the parliament.
One of those, Joe McGirr, said he would also support a ban on firearm lobbyists, saying he believed interest groups had too much sway in the political process.
“I think that having donations from these pressure groups is actually a problem,” he said. “It really does undermine democracy. I think Australians have a view that everyone should have a fair go and I think that when people with money can get unfair access it undermines that. That’s really what we’re talking about.”
The al-Jazeera investigation used hidden cameras and a journalist posing as a grassroots gun campaigner to expose the far-right party’s extraordinary efforts to secure funding in Washington DC in September.
The investigation also recorded a meeting between the One Nation officials and representatives from Koch Industries, which funds various conservative causes in the US.