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Regulations and Determinations : Customs (Prohibited Imports) Amendment (Shotguns and Shotgun Magazines) Regulation 2016 : Disallowance

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 23 Nov 2016

Monday, 21 November 2016

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:12): The Greens do not support the disallowance of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Amendment (Shotguns and Shotgun Magazines) Regulation 2016. Here is another example of a member of the gun lobby, Senator Leyonhjelm, working to sacrifice public safety to expand firearm ownership and use. Senator Leyonhjelm has also provided an insight for us into how negotiations operate with the Turnbull government. What we have also seen in the course of what he has disclosed is the extent to which the Turnbull government is going to trash the very important legacy of the former Prime Minister, John Howard, when it came to making Australia a safer country by bringing in stronger gun control measures.

We have just heard from one of the members of that government, Senator McKenzie, speaking about her commitment that she is not trying to water down the laws on guns in this country. But what we know is that the Turnbull government is trying to do precisely that in the way that they are in slippery deals with prominent people who advocate weakening the gun laws. The priority right now should be stopping Adler weapons coming into this country—stopping them flooding in. Using the classic tactic that we see so often from conservatives these days, they say one thing when their intent is quite the opposite. We have seen that from Senator McKenzie tonight, making out that she is not out there trying to advocate for weaker gun control.

Senator McKenzie: This doesn't change anything!

Senator RHIANNON: It does, actually. It enormously does. Your misinformation tonight was extreme. Another piece of misinformation that comes from people like Senator McKenzie and others is that people who advocate gun control want to take firearms off people. It is something that Senator Leyonhjelm set out and it is frequently an argument. It is not about taking guns off people.

I have been involved in this issue of gun control since the 1990s. Back then, we were even accused—a crazy suggestion—of trying to stop firearm competitions in the Olympic Games. What absolute rubbish. Again, that misinformation to try to make out that people who advocate for gun control—

Senator McKenzie interjecting—

Senator RHIANNON: I am happy to acknowledge the interjections of senators here. We should be working together to achieve public safety. Public safety requires stronger regulation. That means bringing the National Firearms Agreement up to date with the challenges of new technology, which is very much relevant to the whole issue with the Adler.

When we have these debates, we need to remember our history—particularly this year, which is 20 years since the tragedy of Port Arthur. It was in April this year that the 20th anniversary was commemorated, with great sadness. The positive out of it—it is obviously incredibly tragic that it had to come this way—is that we have seen a history in Australia of gun control advances because of the tragedy of massacres. Stricter gun controls have led to a huge decline in gun murders. It is worth people noting the research that came out at the time of the anniversary. Reuters did an analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. The chance of being murdered with a gun in Australia in 1996 was 0.54 per 100,000. If you come forward to 2014, the figure had plunged from 0.54 to 0.15 per 100,000. That is significant. That is what we are talking about: public safety—people's lives saved. In 1996, Australia had 311 murders, of which 98 were with guns. In 2014, with the population having increased from 18 million in 1996 to 23 million in 2014, Australia had 238 murders, of which 35 were with guns. That is putting it in real figures—figures that reflect people's lives. Families can feel confident that so many people live a life that could have been robbed from them if we did not have the gun control measures that we have achieved. The government buyback and the confiscation of about a million weapons was part of that shift to measures that contribute to public safety.

What we also need to focus on with the National Firearms Agreement—which again brings in the Adler, because that is where this debate about the Adler should go, not with the trickery going on with this disallowance—is addressing one of the problems that occurred in 1996. While the agreement was a huge advance—and I pay tribute to former Prime Minister John Howard for what was achieved then—all that was banned was semiautomatic long arms, not the semiautomatic pistols.

Senator Leyonhjelm: Which is what they use in the Olympics!

Senator RHIANNON: We are not talking about the Olympics; we are talking about what can be used generally and is generally available, and you know that, Senator Leyonhjelm.

Since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, gun control in Australia has proved to be incredibly effective in curbing violent crime. The buyback of semiautomatic weapons in the aftermath of Port Arthur has been incredibly significant. It was one of the most comprehensive reforms of firearm laws anywhere in the world, held up as a great example of how communities can become safer. But what we see now with the Adler—and just to concentrate on the Adler issue itself—is a very stark example of the gun lobby trying to reverse, to erode, the gun control regulations that have been put in place.

Improvements in firearm technology and design have turned the old, clunky lever-action shotgun into a modern rapid-fire gun that can shoot eight rounds in eight seconds. Going back to some of Senator Leyonhjelm's contribution, you would have thought that this was nothing really special and that it is just a bit of a difference between having bullets in your pocket and having bullets in your gun so that they can fire off a bit more quickly. Well, it is actually a very advanced weapon and it is a rapid-fire weapon—what some call semiautomatics.

Currently, all lever-action shotguns—even ones with magazines—are characterised as general hunting rifles. That puts them in categories A and B, the least restrictive categories, which are available to the majority of firearm licence holders. As we have heard from other speakers tonight, there are 800,000 people in Australia who hold that licence. I understand that primary producers, military people and others who require access to these firearms for general purposes are not going to be impacted here. We are talking about recreational shooters. This is where the gun lobby is out to expand the use of guns in our society, targeting more people to bring them in as recreational shooters. They are the people who would have access to the Adlers, and they have no need to at all. How irresponsible, putting those forms of semiautomatic weapons in the hands of so many ordinary people who do not need them! They have absolutely no reason to have access to such rapid-fire firearms.

In 2015, the Australian Crime Commission actually issued a warning about this weapon. The people who do not like this—the conservatives on the government benches—are usually out there singing their praises. It is those very security people, the Australian Crime Commission and many of our police forces, who are deeply worried about Adlers coming into Australia.

What is very relevant to this issue is some of the comments from the federal Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan. He approved the importation of the Adler five-plus-one shot. Over 7,000 have already arrived in Australia, and the Adler A110 do-it-yourself magazine extension kit is now also available across Australia, turning the five-plus-one into an 11-shot firearm. Those figures are probably not really clear to a lot of us, and I am certainly not an expert in guns. But what I know, in terms of how this technology is being developed, is that it is sophisticated and it means there are weapons that can fire off a number of rounds in a very short time—eight rounds in eight seconds—which means they are very dangerous weapons.

The federal government should be acting now to prevent the rapid-fire shotgun from flooding into the Australian market. That should be the priority of a responsible government. I think it is also relevant to also make a few comments about the situation in the US, because the National Rifle Association of the United States is giving advice to the gun lobby here and, as we know, it was a significant issue in the recent US election. In January last year the person who is now the President-Elect of the United States, Donald Trump, wrote in a tweet:

Fact - the tighter the gun laws, the more violence. The criminals will always have guns.

There was also a bit of an infamous comment from the gun lobby advocates in this country. They are out there saying that criminals are the ones with illegal guns and that is where the problem lies. What they need to remember, and what they should be honest about, is that illegal guns were once legal guns, and the more legal guns there are in circulation the more guns that will get stolen and end up in illegal hands and be part of the shootings and the crimes that we see in this country. You cannot divorce these two issues.

But going back to how this is playing out in the states: this year Ted Cruz, one of the Republicans, blamed Australian gun laws for a rise in sexual assault—really crazy debating stuff there. Unfortunately, the unsuccessful candidate, the Democrat Hillary Clinton, ruled out an Australian-style gun buyback, and Bernie Sanders, the other hopeful, rejected the need for tougher gun controls despite a gun murder rate of 3.4 per 100,000 in the United States. Now, the fact that those comments have been made by Ms Clinton and Mr Sanders—I would say people who are very progressive on a majority of issues—shows the power of the gun lobby; they just do not want to entertain tighter gun laws. Australian gun laws brought into the United States would save lives rather than having the horrendous situation we see in that country at the moment.

So, with regard to some of the comments from Senator Leyonhjelm: he said he negotiated in good faith with the government. He set out a very interesting scenario of how it played out. How he negotiated in good faith with the government is a bit beyond belief, because he has been here long enough and surely he knows the track record of this government and how often they have broken their word on so many issues. We have seen a real sellout on public safety for the expansion of gun use. That is basically what is going on, even though I noticed a number of times that a number of the Labor senators have congratulated Senator Leyonhjelm on how he set it out. But what he was setting out was his willingness to sell our public safety so there would be Adlers flooding into this country.

Then we hear the argument about feral animals, which is a total con job. Having recreational shooters out there killing feral animals is no way to control that problem, Such animals need to be addressed in an evidence based way with professional management. The Greens do not rule out that sometimes these animals may need to be shot. But that needs to be undertaken in a professional way, not in the way that is currently proposed.

We need to remind ourselves of what happened at Port Arthur. Port Arthur was an absolute tragedy. We learned a lot of lessons, but the job was not fully done. Not all the weapons that need to be banned were banned to ensure that we can promote public safety to the degree that we have a responsibility to ensure. The ban on the semiautomatic longarms came in but not on the semiautomatic shortarms, and now we have the Adlers—a rapid-fire weapon—that should come under that ban. That is essentially what we are dealing with here now.

I do congratulate Gun Control Australia. They are advancing this issue. They are having a very important campaign around banning the Adler. It would be much wiser for the debate on this issue to occur in the context of the National Firearms Agreement rather than in the sneaky way Senator Leyonhjelm is trying to advance it here today. It does no credit to him. We need to get back to addressing gun control and the use of firearms, making public safety the priority, not expanding the number of guns in our community.

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