Issue travel warning for US over shootings - Aussie veteran politician

Australia's former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer © Tim Wimborne
Australians traveling to the US should be warned they may fall victim to gun violence, veteran politician Tim Fischer said, responding to a US government warning to Americans about possible terrorist attacks in Sydney.

Fischer, who was leader of the National Party of Australia for almost a decade and served as Deputy Prime Minister under John Howard in the second half of the 1990s, was expressing frustration over US State Department’s travel warnings about potential threats to American citizens traveling abroad.

READ MORE: 3 dead, 4 injured after police op in Sydney siege

A rare worldwide alert was issued in December 2014 in the wake of the hostage crisis in Lindt café in Sydney. Fischer told ABC News the American attitude is unfair, considering how dangerous America itself is due to the level of gun violence and a lack of effort to change the situation.

"I'm a bit sick and tired of the US chucking handballs at us, putting into their travel advice that it's not safe to go to Sydney," Fischer said, as cited by Fairfax Media.

Fischer said a person is 15 times more likely to be shot dead in the US than in Australia and that travel advice from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) should reflect this, as it does for Mexico.

“Have we not reached the stage where the Smart Traveller advice of the DFAT needs to be muscled up?" he said. "It's time to call out the USA."

Fischer was at the forefront of a sweeping gun reform in Australia launched in the wake of a massacre in Port Arthur in Tasmania in 1996. Forty-six people were killed there, making it one of the world’s deadliest episodes of gun violence committed by a single perpetrator.

The reform pushed by the commonwealth government on Australian states outlawed semiautomatic rifles and restricted gun control regulations. A buyback program launched to compensate gun owners handing over their firearms resulted in over 1 million guns being destroyed.

Since the mid-1990s, Australia's firearm mortality rate has dropped from 2.6 per 100,000 people to just under 1 per 100,000, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. For comparison, the rate in the US is more than 10 per 100,000, according to the US National Vital Statistics Report.

There have been no mass shootings in Australia since the Port Arthur massacre. Even the hostage crisis, as tense as it was, resulted in deaths of just two hostages and the assailant himself. There were two deaths in another high-profile shooting at the Monash University in Melbourne in 2002.

The current advice of DFAT's Smart Traveller website says:

“The United States has a generally higher incidence of violent crime, including incidences where a firearm (gun) is involved, compared to Australia, but there are significant variations between and within regions and cities.”

Fischer blasted the powerful US gun lobby organization, the National Rifle Association (NRA), for obstructing any attempts to regulate firearms.

"The NRA in particular needs to be called out for their unacceptable blockage of any sensible reform, including [ammunition] magazine limitation," he said.

The veteran Australian politician called for a tourism boycott of the US in August 2013, after 22-year old Australian baseball player Christopher Lane was shot dead in Oklahoma while jogging.

READ MORE: FBI investigates San Bernardino shooting as 'act of terrorism'

Fischer was speaking on Thursday just after the massacre in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 people dead and 21 injured. The FBI is investigating the attack as an act of terrorism.