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Speech : Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2016 : Second Reading

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 15 Feb 2017

Monday, 13 February 2017

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (13:15): When it comes to debating gun control measures, or what appear to be gun control measures, in this house that come from the Turnbull government or from any Liberal-National government, one needs to look at them very closely. Increasingly, this government is seen to walk both sides of the road. They try to make out on the public record that they are concerned about public safety and that they are attempting to deal with gun crime. But, when you look at the actual detail, they have not brought forward measures that would actually deliver in that sense. The question that is very relevant to this debate is why that is. It is because there are competing interests between the Nationals and some Liberals, particularly around the issue of winning support.

I saw this at very close quarters in the New South Wales parliament with the rise of the shooters party. They were first elected to that parliament in 1995. I understand it was the first parliament where they gained elected representatives. From that moment, sadly with the Labor Party as well as the Liberal Party and the Nationals, there was a real courting of the section of the community that votes largely on issues to do with greater availability of firearms. How this will play out is very troubling for the security and the safety of people here in this country.

We need to be very mindful of that factor—that so much of how the government handle firearms issues is now coloured by their interests in trying to make out that they are out there looking after the gun lobby, everything from individual shooters across to the actual industry itself, from the importers to those who sell firearms. They are trying to make out that they are out there looking after the shooters and looking after the industry by weakening gun control measures. We see that so clearly with the National Firearms Agreement being weakened and with the relevant minister recently being outed on how he refers to that fine document. I have put on the record many times that that is one issue that I do pay credit to the former Prime Minister John Howard for. The current minister calls it 'red tape' and is now working with the industry on how they will deal with that red tape. That is the lens that we have to examine in the debate that is before us now.

If the Turnbull government were serious about reducing gun crime, they would toughen up on imports, tighten licensing and increase coordination between state and federal law enforcement agencies. There is a lot of talk these days across so many areas—education and transport—of industry about how we have to have consistency across the country. When it comes to something so obvious as consistency with regard to laws covering firearms and the movement of firearms in their sale, there is virtually no consistency in all.

Having that coordination between state and federal law enforcement agencies would include requiring the various state police forces to have well-functioning digital databases where information could be readily shared between law enforcement agencies at a state, territory and federal level. How logical is that? I am sure there are people in those agencies who have probably been trying to achieve that but are getting stymied because what works for the pro-gun lobby is not having that coordination in place. They do not want the restrictions and they do not want that data to be available on lost and stolen weapons.

There are a lot of wrong things going on in this industry, and I would really ask anybody who comes in on this debate to not try and distort the Greens' position to make it seem like we want to shut down guns and not allow anybody to have a gun, even sporting shooters. We totally acknowledge there is a place for that, but what has to be primary is public safety, and that is certainly not being delivered by the legislation before us.

Just staying with this theme about the need for well-functioning digital databases in Queensland their firearms registry is a joke. It is well known that it is so antiquated that it is virtually useless. It is largely nonshareable and does not capture very important information. This is where we need to identify that it is a priority. What we have is the government coming up with that favourite line of conservatives, banging the law-and-order drum and trying to scare people and talking about increased sentences, when we know for a fact that that will not reduce gun crime. We know that is the case. If you look at some of the work that has come out of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, they have put out a report. They said:

… illegal importation accounts for a comparatively small percentage of illicit firearms.

I put that on the record that. Again, it is about identifying the problem. It is a furphy saying the problem here is external. The problem is internal. We are now into 2017 and we still have not got the coordination of these databases so we know about the movement of guns out into the illegal market. Clearly the government are barking up the wrong tree here. We saw that again with how the whole debate around the Adler played out—about importing that and the magazine extensions that were involved there. They have been very deceptive about how all this is playing out.

I also want to raise that I understand the Labor Party have amendments and that their position on mandatory sentencing is consistent with ours. We are pleased to support those amendments because we know that increased sentences are largely ineffective in reducing crime. There have been so many studies on this, and I really do imagine that most people are aware of this. There was a recent one from BOCSAR, and they said:

Increasing the length of stay in prison beyond current levels does not appear to impact on the crime rate after accounting for increases in arrest and imprisonment likelihood.

Again: is the government really serious about public safety, about ensuring that there are not more firearms moving into the illegal market? When you look into the detail of it you really find it hard to take the government seriously on what they say they want to achieve here.

Each Australian jurisdiction maintains a separate firearms registry and details, and individual licence holders are required to advise the appropriate registry when they dispose of or receive a firearm from interstate. But the accuracy of that is what is being questioned. In fact, in this day and age, having a well-functioning digital database where this information can be readily shared should be the starting point here. At the moment a powerful gun lobby is increasingly operating in this country. We know from various boasts from sections of the pro-gun lobby in this country—some of the statements made in the last federal election—of close contacts with the National Rifle Association in the States, with advice and sometimes personnel coming from that organisation on how to elevate support for a pro-firearm stance, a stance to weaken gun-control measures. That is penetrating the electoral process here.

So, we need to have that awareness, because this bill before us is not going to achieve what the government is making out that it will. Public safety is not the primary factor here. It is really a smokescreen—saying that action is being taken when it is largely business as usual for the firearm lobby and the intersection between the illegal market and the legal use of firearms. This is not the advance that we needed, and the Greens will continue to take up this matter and support a number of the amendments before us. Thank you.

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