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Adjournment speech: Gun control

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 21 Jun 2017

Monday 19 June

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (22:12): The Turnbull government have announced the first national gun amnesty since the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. With great fanfare, the government is attempting to use this gun amnesty to project a positive image of tackling terrorism and of reducing the number of guns in circulation. However, the reality is quite different in terms of what is being achieved.

While the Greens do not dispute the value of a gun amnesty, we do sound the alarm on how the government is managing firearms. Over the last decade, firearms legislation has been eroded in this country. At the same time, the number of firearms in circulation has increased. The number of illegal guns in the black market in Australia is deeply alarming: 9,000 firearms have been stolen since 2004. If the government were serious about public safety, the gun amnesty would be linked to a number of stronger gun control measures. But this is where the government attempts to walk both sides of the road, hanging out with the gun lobby and taking their donations, and meanwhile taking a very soft approach to gun control—which, effectively, the gun amnesty is if it is not backed up by strengthening the National Firearms Agreement. That should be at the top of the list of measures that are needed in terms of ensuring gun control is taken seriously in this country.

We certainly need a ban on semiautomatic handguns to be brought in immediately. After the tragedy of the Port Arthur massacre, the ban on semiautomatic long-arm weapons was incredibly significant, and it is largely understood that that is why we have not had such a terrible massacre since then. But we have had so many people murdered, many suicides, drive-by killings and people injured in a large number of shocking acts, and by far the majority are undertaken with semiautomatic handguns. They clearly should be banned.

We also need to bring in a ban on political donations from the gun lobby, which are becoming more insidious. In 2015-16, political parties in Australia accepted more than $300,000 in political donations—in just 12 months. It was from the firearms lobby—the people who supply guns and the manufacturers. It should really spark deep concern about how we are handling this issue in Australia. It is insidious. When that political money starts to come in, we see the influence. We do not know what deals go on behind closed doors; but when you look at the outcome of what is happening in this country with the weakening of the National Firearms Agreement, the failure of the government to ban semi-automatic handguns and, in particular, the failure to be open about what is going on between political parties and the gun lobby, we need to become very worried about what is happening with regard to how these activities are played out.

The National Firearms Agreement came out of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, and it was a very fine part of the negotiations that occurred. I have previously paid tribute to former prime minister John Howard for what he achieved under really tough circumstances. But now that agreement is under increasing threat as industry groups infiltrate review committees, advisory groups and even our parliaments. There is increasingly a voice among politicians here who are active for the gun lobby. We have seen that with the Shooters Party and the Liberal Democratic Party. I certainly saw this in the New South Wales Parliament. As the Shooters Party came on the scene and their vote started to increase, the national party started to flirt more with the gun lobby and be a flag waver for the relaxation of gun laws. In our own parliament, Senator Bridget McKenzie is a strong advocate for this position. Again, it is very worrying. It is certainly linked with the electoral aspect of chasing votes. But surely public safety should come first. This is a government that bangs the drum of law and order and says it is committed to public safety and security; but, when you look at what is going on with gun laws, the hypocrisy is extreme.

The National Firearms Agreement came under review recently. The review was established following the joint Commonwealth-New South Wales report on the Martin Place siege. Various states also undertook their own reviews. This review was undertaken by the Firearms and Weapons Policy Working Group, chaired by the Attorney-General's Department. That sounds exactly like what you should do when you are in government; but again you have to look at what actually happened when that review was set up. The National Firearms Agreement review set up an industry reference group. And who did that include? The National Firearms Dealers Association, the Sporting Shooters Association, Field and Game Australia and the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia. Okay, you can say they have a right—and they do. Please do not represent the position of Greens: it is not about getting rid of all guns; it is about the issue of public safety. Those are organisations whose commitment is to advance the position of their members or, in cases where they are industry bodies, increase the profits of the companies. So, yes, they have a right to be at the table. But surely organisations such as Gun Control Australia, those who are advocating for gun safety and the organisations that represent the victims of gun violence have a right to be a table. But they were not. Again, this exposes the very dangerous way this government is approaching gun control measures.

On top of the increase in firearms numbers in Australia, our government is also trading in firearms with the US, which is actually adding to gun violence in other countries. So we have the problem of an increasing number of firearms in our country; but when you look at how the federal government and some state governments are allowing a trade in weapons that were once part of the police force and then become redundant because new weapons are brought in, that is highly worrying, particularly when you consider what goes on in the United States. Most countries, except Australia, have a declared government policy to destroy surplus state owned small arms rather than resell them on the secondary arms market. But that is what we engage in—a secondary arms market, which is fuelling more firearms on the streets of Los Angeles, New York, you name it.

South Australia and Victoria are part of this. They have signed contracts with US arms dealers to export thousands of surplus Smith & Wesson arms for resale in the US civilian gun market. This is how it works. The maker—in this case Smith & Wesson—picked up two tenders to arm the South Australian and Victorian police. As part of the deal, they bought back their old revolvers in a new-for-old gun swap, with the guns then sold in the US, where they clearly would be contributing to the gun violence. We have heard many of those tragic stories, particularly involving black Americans. The Black Lives Matter movement has arisen from so much of that terrible gun violence from both the police and then people on the streets. Again, many of our governments are dealing with this issue in an irresponsible way.

I was interested in some of the comments about the Queensland deal from former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty. He said:

When the AFP went from Smith & Wessons to Glocks we actually destroyed the Smith & Wessons. Other agencies, for purely economical reasons, did trading deals with the firearms suppliers so there is no guarantee where those weapons ended up.

That is coming from the former police commissioner. There is no guarantee where those weapons ended up. That is an extraordinary statement when our police are supposed to be managing public safety and the use of firearms. Here their own weapons are being distributed and sole around the world. Who knows where they end up? And that comes out of the mouth of the former police commissioner—and I understand that he said that when he was the police commissioner.

To add to evidence about the shocking way the Australian governments are managing these older firearms: the United Nations Comtrade Database indicates the revolvers and pistols figures show large increases in exports to the US in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and to New Zealand in 2016. So the evidence is in. We are involved in this trade. We are causing a lot of destruction and a lot of injuries and deaths in other countries because of that irresponsible policy. But let's start with our own country. It is time we brought in that ban on semiautomatic handguns and tightened up the national firearm agreement. It is not about stopping people using their weapons for recreational purposes when public safety comes first. We can get the balance right.

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