Senate debates

Monday, 21 November 2016

Regulations and Determinations

Customs (Prohibited Imports) Amendment (Shotguns and Shotgun Magazines) Regulation 2016; Disallowance

6:10 pm

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Amendment (Shotguns and Shotgun Magazines) Regulation 2016, made under the Customs Act 1901, be disallowed.

I am moving to disallow this regulation which reimposes an import ban on the Adler seven-shot lever-action shotgun. I am bound to do this to highlight the government's treachery in dealing with me and to honour my commitment to Australia's 800,000 licensed firearm owners.

On 6 August 2015, the government banned the importation of seven-shot lever-action shotguns. I immediately voiced my opposition, and, on 12 August 2015, the government agreed in writing to sunset the import ban in exchange for my vote on another matter. The sunset was due to take effect on 7 August 2016. The details of the agreement are contained in an exchange of emails which are now in the public domain. I honoured my part of the agreement: I voted with the government to oppose a Labor amendment to a bill. It was not a matter of high principle, but I would not have voted that way but for the deal.

At first, the government kept its side of the bargain, making a regulation on 4 September 2015 that would have lifted the import ban on 7 August 2016. However, on 28 July 2016, little more than a week before the sunset was due to take effect, the government made a new regulation reimposing the import ban. That is the subject of this disallowance motion.

The Minister for Justice, Mr Keenan, called me on the day he announced the reimposition of the import ban. When I pointed out that he was breaking our agreement, he told me that he had never had any intention of allowing the shotgun to be imported. In other words, the government did a deal with me, in writing, in order to get my vote, in full knowledge that it would never abide by the deal. There is a technical term for that; it is what is known as dirty dealing.

In the 45th Parliament, the government will require the support of all but two crossbench senators to achieve a majority when opposed by Labor and the Greens. Securing that support is obviously more likely if it is honourable and negotiates in good faith. But, before I go further on that, let me first consider the merits of the import ban itself.

The ban applies to lever-action shotguns with magazines of more than five rounds. It also prohibits the importation of magazines for lever-action shotguns that hold more than five rounds. The best known brand of lever-action shotgun is the Adler, which is made in Turkey, but there are several other brands from China and Italy. Lever-action shotguns and rifles have been around for well over a century. Some say they were first sold by Winchester—lever-action rifles from 1867 and lever-action shotguns from 1887. There is some disagreement on the details around that but no disagreement about their longevity. They are not new technology. In fact, they have barely changed in over a century.

The benefit of a lever- action shotgun is that it does not have to be reloaded from shell s in your pocket, like one with a single shot or a double barrel. It is reloaded by cranking the lever. For those hunting rabbits, foxes and pigs, the ability to get repeat shots away relatively easily can mean the difference between eliminating pests and watching them escape. It is nowhere near as fast as a semiautomatic and still quite a bit slower than a pump action, but it is better than fumbling around with shells in your pocket. Lever actions also have a sporting use. There is a discipline called '3-gun practical', involving pistols, rifles and shotguns, which is not very practical if the shotgun can only fire two shots. So lever-action shotguns are used in this discipline, at least in Australia.

The idea that lever-action shotguns can be fired rapidly and that this makes them dangerous is sometimes mentioned as a reason for prohibiting them. Yes, if you crank the lever fairly quickly it is possible to fire off shots in somewhat quick succession, although not as fast as a semiautomatic or a pump action, but you cannot do that and hit what you are aiming at. There is no way of cranking a lever action while maintaining a point of aim. Shotguns have substantial recoil, which makes keeping them on target difficult at the same time as firing rapidly. In other words, if you fire quickly you will miss. If you want to hit what you are aiming at, slow fire is best. Anyone who knows about guns knows that and also knows full well that those who say otherwise are ignorant and foolish. It does not matter whether they are law enforcement, politicians or media: ignorance is ignorance. You can have your own opinions, but you cannot have your own facts.

A desperate gun control advocate might say that, 'A criminal may still choose a lever-action shotgun, because they do not care if they fail to hit what they aim at.' But lever action shotguns have never been the firearm of choice for criminals. If you saw off the barrel, you also saw off the magazine. It becomes a single shot. Not only that, but the Adler seven-shot shotgun has a barrel length of 28 inches—hardly something that you could hide down your shorts.

As I mentioned, the import ban in question covers lever-action shotguns with magazines of more than five rounds. It does not affect five-shot lever-action shotguns, which can be imported and legally owned. Like other shotguns, they are in category A, consistent with the National Firearms Agreement. The import ban also does not prevent anyone from converting a five-shot Adler into a seven- or eight-shot simply by fitting a longer tube magazine. There is nothing illegal about it, and plenty of people are doing it. The only restriction is that the longer magazine has to be made in Australia, because the import ban means they cannot be imported. Thus, the import ban achieves nothing. It is certainly not preventing the ownership and use of seven-shot lever-action shotguns. Not that there is anything special about the presence of two extra rounds in the magazine. They do not transform it from a safe firearm to a dangerous firearm. Neither a mass murder nor a terrorist attack is more likely because of those two extra rounds. Being a shotgun, its range is very limited. Whereas a lever-action rifle might have a danger range of 500 metres, a lever-action shotgun is not much of a threat beyond 60 or 70 metres. It is worth remembering that the permitted magazine capacity of the lever-action rifle, as with any other rifle, is 10 rounds. Ten rounds is also the magazine limit on pistols—many of which are semiautomatic.

Of the more than 800,000 firearm owners in Australia, relatively few want to own a lever-action shotgun, and very few care whether their lever-action shotgun holds five rounds or seven. However, every one of them knows the implications of creeping regulation on their sport. They know if it is lever-action shotguns today, it will be something else tomorrow. The firearms section in the Attorney-General's Department has had an agenda of incremental restrictions on firearms for over a decade. Semiautomatic pistols, pump action rifles, lever-action shotguns and lever-action rifles are on the list. The 800,000 firearm owners in Australia will not take this lying down. Indeed, I am making it my business to ensure that they all know what is being done to them. For the government, there are a lot of votes to be lost and not one to be gained on this issue.

This disallowance is about much more than the fact that the government has failed to stick to an agreement. It is about what is being done to sporting shooters—taking yet another slice off the salami, yet another step in the process of disarming law-abiding Australians, preventing them from enjoying their sport, hunting and collecting activities. It is about another step towards a disarmed society, where only the police, military, security guards and criminals have guns.

Some might see what happened to me as part of the cut and thrust of politics. I do not. There was cut and thrust in the negotiation of the agreement. The government could have chosen, at any time, to withdraw. Instead, they gave their word, which they have now broken. It is about trust. In the interests of all the negotiations to come, I call on government senators to support the disallowance of this regulation. In the interests of fairness to 800,000 decent, law-abiding Australians, I call on all senators to support the disallowance.

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