House debates

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Bills

Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2017; Consideration in Detail

4:40 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move government amendments (1) and (2), as circulated, together:

(1) Schedule 1, page 7 (after line 10), after item 1F, insert:

2 After section 360.3 of the Criminal Code

Insert:

360.3A Minimum penalties

(1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), the court must impose a sentence of imprisonment of at least 5 years for a person convicted of an offence against this Division.

People aged under 18

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a person who was aged under 18 years when the offence was committed.

Reduction of minimum penalty

(3) A court may impose a sentence of imprisonment of less than the period specified in subsection (1) only if the court considers it appropriate to reduce the sentence because of either or both of the following:

(a) the court is taking into account, under paragraph 16A(2) (g) of the Crimes Act 1914, the person pleading guilty;

(b) the court is taking into account, under paragraph 16A(2) (h) of that Act, the person having cooperated with law enforcement agencies in the investigation of the offence.

(4) If a court may reduce a sentence, the court may reduce the sentence as follows:

(a) if the court is taking into account, under paragraph 16A(2) (g) of the Crimes Act 1914, the person pleading guilty—by an amount that is up to 25% of the period specified in subsection (1);

(b) if the court is taking into account, under paragraph 16A(2) (h) of that Act, the person having cooperated with law enforcement agencies in the investigation of the offence—by an amount that is up to 25% of the period specified in subsection (1);

(c) if the court is taking into account both of the matters in paragraphs (a) and (b)—by an amount that is up to 50% of the period specified in subsection (1).

(2) Schedule 1, page 12 (after line 4), after item 3M, insert:

4 After section 361.4 of the Criminal Code

Insert:

361.5 Minimum penalties

(1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), the court must impose a sentence of imprisonment of at least 5 years for a person convicted of an offence against this Division.

People aged under 18

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a person who was aged under 18 years when the offence was committed.

Reduction of minimum penalty

(3) A court may impose a sentence of imprisonment of less than the period specified in subsection (1) if the court considers it appropriate to reduce the sentence because of either or both of the following:

(a) the court is taking into account, under paragraph 16A(2) (g) of the Crimes Act 1914, the person pleading guilty;

(b) the court is taking into account, under paragraph 16A(2) (h) of that Act, the person having cooperated with law enforcement agencies in the investigation of the offence.

(4) If a court may reduce a sentence, the court may reduce the sentence as follows:

(a) if the court is taking into account, under paragraph 16A(2) (g) of the Crimes Act 1914, the person pleading guilty—by an amount that is up to 25% of the period specified in subsection (1);

(b) if the court is taking into account, under paragraph 16A(2) (h) of that Act, the person having cooperated with law enforcement agencies in the investigation of the offence—by an amount that is up to 25% of the period specified in subsection (1);

(c) if the court is taking into account both of the matters in paragraphs (a) and (b)—by an amount that is up to 50% of the period specified in subsection (1).

5 Application of amendments

The amendments made by items 2 and 4 of this Schedule apply in relation to conduct engaged in at or after the commencement of this Schedule.

4:41 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

():We were very pleased to support the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2017 on the second reading, and that's because this fundamentally was a Labor bill. The legislation that we had before us today was a bill that had actually been completely rewritten by Labor and the crossbench up in the Senate, and that's a bill that we were really proud to work on. Early in the term here, the minister sitting opposite me decided that he would try a little political exercise and try to wedge the Labor Party. So he created a bill that was not much more than something that contained mandatory minimums.

We don't support mandatory minimums, and we don't for a very good reason: we know that they won't work. We'll have plenty of opportunities during this consideration in detail to go to the evidence that supports that claim. But, because we on the Labor side of the House have such strong concern about gun violence, what we did was take that law—that foolish political exercise—and decide to try to make out of it a good bill that would improve the community safety of Australians. That's why, when it got into the Senate, Labor moved amendments to add aggravated offences to this bill. Those aggravated offences are deliberately targeted at people who are gun running guns into this country, and for the first time it would give courts in Australia the ability to lock these criminals up for life as we believe that some of them deserve.

Those reforms received bipartisan support. That is to say that reforms that Labor moved over in the other place received the support of the government. And we were very pleased with that. The Senate also made the good decision to remove the mandatory minimums from that bill. As I said, mandatory minimums do not work. The minister probably thought he was being terribly clever trying to wedge Labor. It was an utter failure and an embarrassment in the Senate because what the Senate did was take that political exercise and make it into a law that was going to make Australians safer.

If the government was not going to be bloody-minded about this, we could actually have a law that protects Australians better right now. If the government and the minister sitting opposite me had the fortitude to stand up and say that these bills would be separated so we could get a good law that appropriately protects Australians and deal with this political distraction of the mandatory minimums later, we'd be very pleased to support that. All of us could leave this House tonight knowing that we had done a good day's work creating good laws that better protect Australians.

I wrote to the minister last night on this subject because for eight months we have been waiting for this bill to return from the Senate. For eight months we could have had a tougher, stronger law against firearm traffickers, but, because of this minister's bloody-mindedness, we have not had the ability to deal with the reform in the House as we should have. Now, eight months later, when it has come back to us, it has, inserted back into it, mandatory minimums, something the government knows that we are not going to support and something the government knows the Senate will not support, because they've rejected it three times already. And so what we have here is the minister opposite me pretending to care about community safety but instead using this chamber as a political exercise. This is not a student representative council. It's not a local council. This is the federal parliament, where we're supposed to act like adults. It's no wonder so many Australians have lost faith in this chamber's ability to deal with the issues that affect their everyday lives.

I wrote to the minister last night. I laid out the case for splitting these bills so that we could have tougher, stronger laws against firearm trafficking today and we could deal with the separate political debate that he's evidently so keen on without continuing to hamper the safety of Australians. I have not received a response from the minister. So my question to the minister is: will you split the bill so we can have a better law right now?

4:45 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

It's extraordinary that this minister cares so little for the substance of his own amendment that, on moving the amendment, he could not even bring himself to give a speech in support of it. It shows the hollowness and the grubbiness of this failure of a minister that he's not even prepared to speak in favour of his own amendment. What an extraordinary state of affairs that we have a minister, the justice minister, who, with a bill that is already complete—a bill that has come to us from the Senate, a bill that has bipartisan support, a bill that achieves tougher penalties, a bill that does something about gun trafficking in this country—wants to actually worsen that bill and weaken that bill. He is putting forward an extraordinary and pathetic amendment which he's not even prepared to give a speech in favour of. What kind of minister is this? He is a failure of a minister.

It's extraordinary. He likes to talk about the 2010 mandatory minimum that was introduced by a Labor government for an offence called 'aggravated people smuggling'. Is this failure of a minister seriously suggesting that the introduction of that mandatory sentence stopped people smuggling? I don't think so. If he is, let him say it. But I don't think he is saying that, and he's clearly not listening—

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member will resume his seat. Now that we have some silence, the honourable member for Isaacs.

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. As I was saying, this failure of a minister is clearly not listening to anything that has been said by Labor in this debate. He was clearly not listening to me now, and I'll repeat it. He likes to call in aid the fact that Labor legislated, for a new offence of aggravated people smuggling in 2010, a mandatory minimum sentence. One has to ask: is this minister seriously suggesting that the introduction of this mandatory sentence stopped people smuggling? If he is, let him say it. But I don't think that this minister is saying that.

Mr Keenan interjecting

If he'd just shut up for a moment and listen, if this failure of a minister had any rigour, he would accept that that one example that he loves to give, because he's only interested in partisan political game-playing, is in fact evidence that mandatory sentencing does not work and has no effect at all. That's the problem with this government. The minister doesn't want to listen, and the government doesn't want to listen, to the Law Council of Australia.

Mr Keenan interjecting

He loves the sound of his own voice, which is why he's still not shutting up. He doesn't want to listen to the Law Council of Australia. He doesn't want to listen to the Judicial Conference of Australia. He doesn't want to listen to Chief Justice Barwick of the High Court—a former Liberal Attorney-General—to Chief Justice Gibbs of the High Court or to Chief Justice Kiefel of the High Court, all of whom, along with the rest of the High Court for decades, have condemned mandatory minimum sentencing being imposed by this or any other parliament in Australia, because they understand the proper role of the courts, which is to make punishment fit the crime.

This minister calls himself the Minister for Justice, but he has no idea of justice. He has no idea of the criminal justice system. He has no idea of the damage that he wishes to do with this amendment.

Mr Keenan interjecting

He's still not listening, Deputy Speaker. He won't shut up. You should try to shut him up because he would be far better off if he listened, not just to me; not just to my colleagues in the Labor Party; and not just to the eloquence of my colleague the shadow minister for justice, the member for Hotham; but to the lawyers of Australia; to the Law Council of Australia, the peak body to every state law society; to every bar council and bar association in this country; to the Australian Bar Association; to the International Commission of Jurists; to the Australian Human Rights Commission; and, as I said before, to the Judicial Conference of Australia; all of whom have condemned mandatory minimum sentences, which do not work and which damage our system of justice.

4:50 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I think we need to be very clear about what's happening here. Labor have come into this chamber and want to weaken what we are trying to do to put gun smugglers in prison, using the same rationale they have used about us wanting to put child sex offenders in prison. This is the modern face of the Labor Party: overtaken by left-wing ideology against all common sense.

The Australian people want gun smugglers to go to prison. They want paedophiles to go to prison. What we have had is this fake argument where Labor come forward and say, 'Well, you know what? We don't want mandatory sentencing. We don't want mandatory sentencing for these horrendous crimes. What we're going to do instead is increase the maximum penalties.' We on this side are happy to support that. I'm very happy for the government to commit itself to increasing maximum penalties. In fact, that would have been part of both our bills. But, of course, that does not guarantee that gun runners or paedophiles will spend one day in prison. This is the problem with the approach of those opposite. This is the problem with having left-wing ideology dominate what should actually be an argument dominated by the safety of the Australian community but, instead, we find they have been overtaken by this nonsense ideology.

Now, apparently, the Labor Party are deeply opposed to mandatory sentencing, even though when they were in office they introduced it for people smuggling. We have mandatory sentencing in Australia currently for people-smuggling and terrorism offences—two very significant offences. The Labor Party have been making the argument on this bill and on the other bill we have for locking up paedophiles that they don't support mandatory sentencing. If that's the case, are they going to repeal mandatory sentencing for people smuggling? They've just been saying it doesn't work.

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What's that got to do with anything? This is your bill.

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

What's that got to do with it? Are they going to repeal mandatory sentencing for terrorism offences? The Labor Party have just been up here in this debate saying that they don't believe in mandatory sentencing, so I think it's fair enough that they explain to the Australian people about whether they will repeal the mandatory sentencing laws that exist at the moment for people-smuggling and terrorism offences. You've got an opportunity to get up and explain what Labor's position is.

This is very simple: you are either want gun runners to go to prison or you don't. Our proposal will make sure that they serve a minimum time in prison. The Labor Party's proposal will make sure that the government's tough measures don't move forward. These amendments are vitally important to secure community safety, and I would urge the Labor Party—

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

In what way? Tell us one way.

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

What? By putting gun runners to prison! The shadow Attorney-General doesn't think community safety is enhanced by putting gun runners in prison. Is that right? I honestly can't believe the position that's being put by those opposite. Usually the shadow Attorney-General and the shadow minister for justice are brought back to some semblance of common sense.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker, a point of order: there's a specific reference in Practice to putting words into someone else's mouth. We just saw a very precise example of that from the minister, claiming that the shadow Attorney-General had uttered words which he had not uttered. I ask that it be withdrawn.

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will allow what the minister has said and we'll proceed. I don't see the issue. Explain exactly what you're referring to.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker, because this will affect future editions of Practice, can I ask then if you are changing the ruling on whether or not people are allowed to put words into someone else's mouth? There's a specific reference to it in Practice. If you're changing that ruling—

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I'm not changing that ruling. Minister for Justice?

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to withdraw, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will just draw this argument to a conclusion by saying that the choice here is very clear. It's whether you want to make sure that people who engage in gun smuggling—a very serious crime, because you don't move guns around the community unless you've got a very nefarious purpose for doing so—spend one day in prison. If you do, you will support the mandatory sentencing that we're proposing. And, if you don't support that, then clearly you're supporting the arrangements which are the status quo. I think that would be shameful, and I'm very surprised that the Labor Party has yet again stood in the way of us toughening up laws for gun smuggling.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

How's voting for the bill in its current form supporting the status quo?

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! There are a lot of words being thrown around the chamber at the moment.

4:55 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I was asked by a very powerful person in this place, when I intimated to him that he was working under a great handicap because he had the worst group of ministers that I've ever seen in my life in 44 years in parliament, 'Who do you reckon is the worst?' and I mentioned the Minister for Justice immediately. I said that within two months he'd managed to have the government in very serious trouble, and everyone in this place knew that.

It is very interesting to listen to his shadow say that he has defied and treated with contempt every one of the judicial representatives in this country. I can tell you that, from my side, every one of the people involved in firearms in this country is treated similarly. So he has very cleverly managed to antagonise all whom he accuses as being of the right wing and the left wing. He has managed to get both the left wing and the right wing in bed and to have no support whatsoever for his extremist persecution of people associated with these industries, and I would say that these are the valid people.

He doesn't like to listen to what I'm saying, so he will use you as an excuse so he doesn't have to face the music. I'll tell you how genuine this bloke is, because we'll talk about the amendment. In 2012-13, which is the latest year for which we have figures, 67,000 prohibited imports were seized from the 25 per cent of mail inspected. Are you doing anything about that, Minister? I'm giving you an opportunity. Are you doing anything about it?

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not sure what you're talking about.

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

He's not going to talk about that. If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't either. I'd try desperately to hide. Border Protection inspects 0.22 per cent. Almost all the firearms come in in containers, and there's a 0.2 per cent inspection rate. When we have a look at the postal services, we find that 67,000 prohibited imports were seized from the 25 per cent of mail inspected. So, if we inspect the containers, how many seizures are we going to see there? But we're not inspecting them at all. In fact, he is going to punish people—and I'll give you an example in a moment of the punishment that he wants to mete out to people—but is he doing anything about stopping the illegal firearms from coming in? Obviously, they're coming in in containers and with metal items such as motor cars, tractors et cetera, and he's doing absolutely nothing about it.

This is what he wants to do—and I have the classic case. A bloke had been away on holidays overseas with his wife for two months. He came home, got the mail and found out that his gun licence was overdue and had been automatically terminated. So he was holding guns illegally. Now, under this minister, he would do five years in jail. He's president of the Rotary club. He's president of the local golf club. He has been very active in supporting the local rugby league. He is, in fact, the town's leading citizen. What he was subjected to by you, Minister, was six police, wearing bullet-proof vests and with automatic weapons, surrounding his house. This is the leading citizen in the town. This is what you want to subject these people to through legislation. I belonged to a government which—using the terms 'right-wing' and 'left-wing'—was the most right wing government the country has ever seen. But, in my 20 years in the state house, not once did the government get through legislation that reversed the onus of proof or imposed mandatory sentencing—not once. So we might have been bushwhackers or rednecks or whatever you want to call us, but we did know elementary justice and fairness when we saw it.

You come into this place. You have once again succeeded in getting every single person in this place offside—every single person. There could be no two people more unalike than me and the Greens representative here, Adam Bandt, and yet you've got us together. Congratulations! (Time expired)

5:00 pm

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker, thank you for allowing me to contribute to this debate. In my former career as a legal practitioner, I had the distinction and the honour of being able to serve as the President of the Law Society of Tasmania in 1993, and then I had the privilege of serving as the state representative on the Law Council of Australia. In my time dealing with the legal profession and, in particular, dealing with the political side of the legal profession—that is, in the Law Council of Australia and the Law Society of Tasmania—I have yet to experience an issue like this where a minister of the Crown, the Minister for Justice, has described the courts, the Law Council of Australia, the law societies, the Australian Institute of Criminology, the Sentencing Advisory Council of Victoria and other esteemed bodies as 'infected with leftist ideology'. This is an extraordinary attack on the rule of law and the separation of powers which this minister should be ashamed of. But I'm afraid there is absolutely no shame for this minister. He does not listen to the legal profession, and he ought to listen to the legal profession.

There are perfectly good reasons of principle for the minister to listen to these issues and the arguments with respect to the rejection of mandatory minimum sentencing. These are important questions of principle, but this minister is without principle when he considers this issue. He relies purely upon base politics. Indeed, the government's own Attorney-General's Department's paper 'Guide to framing Commonwealth offences, infringement notices and enforcement powers' states that mandatory minimums should be avoided. We know that there are important considerations which operate to ensure that juries are unlikely to convict when they know that people face mandatory minimum sentences. The Law Council just last week said that mandatory sentences actually make it harder to prosecute criminals by removing the incentive for anyone to plead guilty or to provide information to police. There is every incentive for the defendant to fight on and appeal against convictions. Minister, mandatory minimums let guilty people off the hook. You understand that, or you should understand that, and you should listen to the legal profession.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2017 will lead to unintended outcomes because mandatory minimums remove judicial discretion. This is at the heart of the separation of powers. The Law Council of Australia has provided very significant examples as to how this will produce injustice. The first example is:

Former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner, Simon Overland, inadvertently carried a magazine containing live rounds of ammunition on a flight from Melbourne to Canberra in 2010. Prior to travelling, Mr Overland had removed a firearm from his bag, but forgot to take out the magazine. Under the proposed laws he may be facing a mandatory five year jail term.

That is what happens when you remove judicial discretion.

In the next example, a farmer who has never been overseas goes to the US and attends a gun show. He finds a gun part that he thinks would be helpful to use in controlling pests when he returns to the farm. He buys one for himself and he buys one for his mate down the road that he intends to sell to him. This is a situation very similar to that which was referred to previously. He gets caught returning to Australia when he's going through Customs. He is honest, as we all must be, when dealing with the officer and tells the officer that he intends to sell one of the parts to a friend. Minister, that would satisfy the elements of trafficking, and this defendant would be facing a mandatory five years in prison. A judge, the person who should be determining the sentence, would have no choice but to jail him.

The third example is that a prominent businessman exported gunpowder cartridges, primer and propellant from Australia to Papua New Guinea without a permit when the Lae pistol club was short of ammunition after the defendant's home in Lae, where the club's ammunition was stored— (Time expired)

5:06 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

I need to make clear to the Minister for Justice, who has been having difficulty listening to anything that Labor has said in this debate, that not supporting mandatory sentencing on this bill does not mean support for gun traffickers; not supporting mandatory sentencing on this bill does not mean supporting the status quo; and not supporting mandatory sentences on this bill does not mean support for lighter sentences. To explain that a bit further, Labor stands in this parliament having moved amendments in the Senate, where this bill commenced its passage, to increase sentences. So it is not possible for this minister or any other representative of this government to suggest that Labor, in not supporting mandatory sentencing, in some way is supporting lighter sentences. I repeat: Labor does not support lighter sentences.

The reason for increasing the maximum sentences in any criminal offence bill is so that this parliament can send the clearest possible message to every court in Australia administering those criminal statutes that what this parliament is indicating is that sentences should be increased. That's what happens in the sentencing process—just for the benefit of the Minister for Justice. When this parliament increases maximum sentences, courts take notice. That's the way the sentencing process works. Every court in Australia, from the High Court down, takes notice when this parliament increases maximum sentences. I'm pleased to see that the minister's taking notes. Not supporting mandatory sentencing on this bill does not mean supporting the status quo. Again, Labor has moved amendments so that the bill now comes before us in a form which has increased maximum sentences, which will lead, over time—because, again, this is the way the sentencing process works in Australian sentencing law—to increased sentences being imposed on people who are convicted of these offences.

As for the laughable and offensive suggestion that the minister seems to like to keep making—that not supporting mandatory sentences on this bill means that in some way those opposing mandatory sentences support gun trafficking in any way—that is such a laughable suggestion I need say no more about it.

We've also heard from this failure of a Minister for Justice that opposing mandatory sentencing is somehow left-wing ideology. The member for Kennedy might well take issue with the suggestion that opposing mandatory sentencing is left-wing ideology. But I'd invite this minister to put that same proposition to the judges of this country, from the High Court down, who have for decades patiently explained, to anybody in the community who cares to listen and anybody in the community who, like the Minister for Justice, should be listening, that proper and just sentencing requires attention to all of the circumstances of the particular case—to the circumstances of the victim, to the circumstances of the offender and to the circumstances of the crime, the nature of the crime and the seriousness of the crime—and, as part of that process, to what tariff has been set by this parliament in passing legislation.

Most importantly, it's about making the punishment fit the crime. As judges have tried to explain, as legal professional bodies have tried to explain, as the Australian Human Rights Commission has tried to explain, as the Judicial Conference of Australia has tried to explain: making the punishment fit the crime is not something that this parliament can do in advance. This parliament does not know the circumstances of the crime for which a future offender is going to be convicted. This parliament does not know the circumstances of the offender, of the victim, of the nature of the crime, of the seriousness of the crime compared to other crimes of a similar nature. And it's because this parliament does not know, and cannot know, those circumstances that this parliament should never seek to impose a mandatory minimum sentence in respect of a crime yet to be committed about which this parliament knows nothing.

5:11 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker—

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Left-winger!

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

If I'm called left wing outside this chamber, I'll take defamation action I can assure you! There have been very few times in this place I've seen a person who can get such unanimity between the left and right so effectively. I would not like to be a country member of parliament running in the forthcoming federal elections. Everyone regularly goes overseas these days—I'm one of the few who doesn't—and people from the country, by their very nature, have firearms. I mean, it is an absolute necessity. It's not what you like to do; it's what you have to do.

I don't know, the estimates seem to be that there are about 10 million pigs in North Queensland and there are problems on the Barrier Reef—arguably very much coming from this area. The Julia Creek dunnart is the most threatened species in Australia, and Stephen Malone, the expert in this field, has said that unless something's done about pig populations, then it will be extinct. It's only one of many, many items that will be extinct. So these people have guns around all the time.

When you have guns around all the time, you forget when you put some brass in your pocket. You take your trousers off and pack them. You go overseas. You come back into Australia with a shell in your pocket and you go to jail for five years! Now apart from anything else, in Queensland it costs the taxpayers $580,000 a year. A conservative estimate would be about 2,000 people going to jail each year. Minister, we can't afford you. We really, seriously just simply can't afford you—and you won't be able afford anything if you call me a leftie outside of this place!

I do want to seriously say about mandatory sentencing that anyone who has gone to law school, and as I understand it the minister has—I don't talk about it much, but I was president of the law faculty at Queensland university. My brother lectures in law, and I have the privilege of saying I was right on Mabo to the Queensland government. I know the law intimately. In Magna Carta, they died for the principle of being judged by your peers. This is not judgement by your peers. This bloke, this minister, thinks that he can do the judgements forevermore, because we're locked into automatically putting people in jail—whether we like to or whether we don't.

Each of the Labor speakers have quite rightly pointed out that a lot of people will be getting off the hook here who should be on the hook, because people will baulk at putting a human being in jail for five years. But the sorts of people who will be caught in this net are not the people who are the bad guys. The bad guys are not going to be stupid enough to bring a shell casing back in a trouser pocket. Once again I reiterate: you know how—but you don't know, Minister, because you've never spoken to them.

The gun people in Australia have the greatest vested interest in no-one running amok and shooting people, because every time it happens we get punished. We're the ones that desperately don't want this to happen. And of course we are pointing it out to the government and the minister—well, we can't point it out to the minister, because none of the gun groups said they had any listening with him. Either they had a meeting in which he didn't listen and treated them with absolute contempt or they couldn't get a meeting at all.

I find out today from the opposition that he believes in equality, apparently, as he treats the gun people with exactly the same contempt as he treats the judicial people of Australia! And he must be a very clever person, because he knows more than all of them put together!

I repeat that only a quarter of the mail was inspected, and they found 67,000 prohibited imports. This is coming in not through all the mail but the 25 per cent of the mail being inspected. Only 0.2 per cent of the containers coming in are inspected. Should the police and the government spend their money on this stupidity or on stopping the containers? (Time expired)

5:16 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I do need to respond to a few of the things that the member for Kennedy has just said. I'm sorry to hear of the member for Kennedy's very low opinion of me as a minister; I thought we got on better than that, but apparently not. But I do need to say a few things because what he was alleging there, of course, is not right, and that is not the way this legislation will work. The way it will work, of course, is that there are significant safeguards in the way that the police and the CDPP operate every day when making judgements about whether or not to prosecute crimes. That is exactly the way this will work. The member for Kennedy might not be aware of it, but the police are called upon to make judgements—

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The minister will resume his seat. The member for Kennedy.

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

What he's saying is that police forces have a discretionary power and that they can apply it where they want and don't have to apply it where they don't want to. You understand what you're saying, Minister.

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Kennedy will resume his seat or state a point of order. If you have a point of order, state it clearly up front.

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

That is exactly what I'm saying. Police forces all around the country every single day use their discretion about whether or not to prosecute matters, and they are required to take into account the public interest in whether they do so. The same applies for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions as it does for other offices that the states run around that as well.

I do want to take issue with a couple of other things that the member for Kennedy said which are completely and utterly inaccurate. I've said in this place and outside of this place on many occasions that the threat to community safety in relation to guns is in the illicit and black market. That is where the threat to community safety is. Our focus since we arrived in office in 2013 has been cracking down on that. Legal firearms owners, who are registered firearms owners who actually store their weapon well, are not a threat to community safety. I repeat that over and over again. We have been targeting the black market for guns, and that's what this legislation is about. It's the people who smuggle in guns, the ones who have intent to cause harm, who are going to be captured by this.

And I do talk to the firearms-owning community on a regular basis. In fact, I have a firearms consultative committee that has met on a regular basis since I have become minister. It's got representatives from a very broad cross-section of the shooting community on it—both owners and sporting shooters—and I've been meeting with them on a very regular basis since I have become minister. I will continue to meet with them. We've got very good relationships with them. The advice that they give me is always welcome, and we act on it as appropriate.

5:19 pm

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to address this legislation, because it is fundamentally flawed. The minister does need to take into account the views of the legal profession, in particular the concerns that have been expressed by the New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions, the Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecutions, the Australian Human Rights Commission and Law Society of New South Wales. We know that the legal profession as a whole, in a single voice, oppose minimum mandatory sentences, and we know why that is the case: because they simply do not work. We know that they are not capable of putting people in jail, because the juries do not convict. We know that, where there is an opportunity for a judge to exercise sentencing discretion, the justice of the case can be met. We know that, where you impose a mandatory minimum sentence, you can't take into account the individual circumstances of the case—the justice, that is, that has been handed out by the judiciary for nearly a thousand years. It's vitally important that we respect the separation of powers and that we reserve to the judiciary the power to adjudge as to the sentence, taking into account the maximum sentence, which of course will be determined by this place.

The Labor proposal is that we absolutely condemn gun running and gun smuggling by increasing the maximum sentence. That sends the appropriate message to the judiciary and the general public that we are very strongly against gun smuggling. But the answer is never—never—to impose mandatory minimum sentencing. The experience wherever mandatory minimum sentencing is imposed is that it is unsuccessful. It is not capable of dealing with the evil that it is designed to combat. We know that the incentive for a defendant facing a mandatory minimum sentence is to fight the charge. We know that—when it comes to a question of fettering the discretion that's available to a judge, whether it's admitting somebody to bail or dealing with an issue of the sentence—the judge needs to have regard to all of the circumstances, particularly the circumstances of the commission of the offence and the personal circumstances of the defendant.

This is not the way to deal with the evil of gun trafficking. We know that the examples that have been given by the Law Council of Australia provide powerful evidence of the injustice that will be visited upon any defendant that is facing a mandatory minimum sentence.

Before I was interrupted, I gave an example of a prominent businessman who exported gunpowder cartridges, primer and propellant from Australia to Papua New Guinea without a permit, when the Lae Pistol Club was short of ammunition after the defendant's home in Lae, where the club's ammunition was stored, was destroyed in a fire. The defendant disguised the export in order to try to get the items into Papua New Guinea quickly. The magistrate who sentenced him accepted that he was a passionate sporting shooter and was only motivated to assist the club. All of the ingredients are there to enable that defendant to be sentenced to a minimum mandatory term of five years under this legislation.

We know that the circumstances of the case need to be taken into account in determining what a just sentence is for the individual circumstances of the case. We know that this justice minister—this justice minister with a tin ear—needs to be listening to the legal profession. He needs to be concerned about the principles that are involved here, rather than base politics.

5:23 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

There is one other fact that should be raised. The minister said earlier on that he'd spoken to all of the gun representatives and they were all very happy. It would be no news to anyone in this place that I would speak to gun representatives almost on a weekly basis, and I take great pride in being their representative in this place. We don't have a sporting shooters party in Queensland, but we most certainly hold our hands up for that purpose. And there is one thing that needs to be brought to the attention of the House.

There are two magnificent machine-guns in all the world's history: the Owen gun and the Bren gun. They never break down; they just work forever. The Owen gun was built by a 19-year-old kid, who went down to the local machinery shop and said, 'Could you machine up these parts?' He gave them a photograph and diagrams, and six hours later he walked out with an Owen gun, which was, for those people who used it, one of the greatest pieces of machinery that the world had ever seen in weaponry. You see, any diesel fitter, boilermaker or fabricator—anyone—can get hold of this. And we have a vested interest in saying, 'Would the government's resources be used in separating the madmen?' As I said earlier today: reverse the ruling in Tarasoff's case. I'll take a bet, I will put $200 on the table, that the minister can't explain what the ruling in the Tarasoff case was. And don't go ringing up to find out before you get up to speak! If you reverse that rule, Hoddle Street wouldn't have taken place, Surry Hills wouldn't have taken place and Port Arthur wouldn't have taken place if the laws had been enforced.

There are 600 police employed in Australia persecuting all the innocent people that have gun licences and their time is not being spent pursuing the bad guys and separating them from their guns, and separating the people who are both bad and mad from their guns. There's no time being spent on that. If you look at the Port Arthur case, there is no justification for the police not having separated that person from those guns. I mean, they knew he had the guns, they knew he was crazy and they knew the evidence of his relatives that had been murdered and girlfriends that had been murdered. They knew all the evidence and yet they left him there. The time is not being spent on that.

The minister is going to punish anyone that's found bringing a shell case in his pocket back from overseas. I live in North Queensland, Minister, and we interface with New Guinea all the time. It is now the biggest rugby league area in the world and North Queensland is the biggest rugby league area in Australia so we are backwards and forwards all the time. In the Torres Strait, they let us go backwards and forwards as they have for 10,000 or 20,000 years. And because of the dangers that exist for us with the crocodiles, snakes, everything else, sharks in the water—we go diving for crayfish; my cousins and brother are up in the Torres Strait—there are guns going backwards and forwards because they are in their canoes. You 'll have half the population of Torres Strait in jail for five years! I don't know where you are going to get the money from to pay for all these people that you're going to have in jail. You have not thought this through at all. I have to advise the House that either all the gun groups in Australia are telling lies or the minister is telling lies, because they have said to me: 'They may well as have had a conversation with a gum tree.'

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Kennedy will resume his seat. I will remind you of standing orders, section 90, reflecting on member's character. It is highly disorderly.

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I could argue that I'm reflecting on behalf of all the gun representatives in Australia.

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind you to tread carefully there. You've got 40 seconds if you want to keep going.

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

We concentrate all the time on trying to separate the dangerous people from their weapons, and it seems to us that all the authorities want to do is to persecute people that have guns. The minister wasn't here earlier when I said that the bloke who had six police around his house was president of the local Rotary Club, he was president of the golf club, he was very active in rugby league in his town, and he was the town's leading dentist. You are criminalising the most decent people in our society. (Time expired)

5:28 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank those who have made a contribution to this discussion, especially the member for Kennedy, who is making incredible sense over there, which is great to hear. Thank you so much for the contribution. On behalf of Labor, closing this debate, we abhor crime and violence, especially when it relates to gun violence, and that's why we have approached this debate with only one goal in mind—how we can keep Australians safe.

When we got a bill coming into the Senate that was a petty political wedge to make a political point about Labor, we decided to approach that bill in good faith and make a good law. So what we did was worked hard with the crossbench to make changes to that law so that, for the first time in this country, people who seriously run gun-trafficking operations can be put away in jail for life. The government actually supported those amendments. It is quite rare that we see this happen. Labor wanted to make a law that works, we got bipartisan support and it went through that other place.

I want members of parliament to be absolutely clear about what is going on here because we have agreement on new laws that will help make Australians safer. Instead of taking that agreement and making a good law that we could have in place in this country in a matter of a few minutes, the bloody-mindedness of the justice minister has taken hold. This is petty politics at its absolute lowest form. In the time that I have been involved in politics I have never seen someone so obviously put petty politics in the path of the community safety of Australians. I want to repeat that we could have a better law now or we could do what the justice minister wants us to do, which is to bring this parliament into deadlock over a law that everyone in this chamber agrees is very important. That is pathetic. It is absolutely pathetic.

I want to respond to one of the issues that the minister has raised in his contribution so far. He has said that Labor wants to support the status quo. Has the minister been asleep for this whole debate? That is completely and utterly wrong. What Labor wants is tough new sentencing for gun traffickers, because we don't want gun traffickers walking the streets; we want them in jail and, if necessary, in jail for life. The only thing that is standing in the path of this becoming Australian law in a matter of minutes is this minister here—this minister who is so willing to put petty politics ahead of the safety of the people that he professes to represent. This is disgraceful. It is a disgraceful use of time in this chamber.

We all know what's about to happen here. I just want to lay this out very clearly because I want people on the government side—the good people on that side of the House—to understand what it is they are about to come and vote for. They are about to come in here and vote for a bill that will send this parliament into deadlock. I want every person on the conservative side of politics who's listening to this right now to understand what this minister is making them do in front of their constituents. This minister is putting your votes in the path of tough new laws to stop gun traffickers and to put gun traffickers in jail for life. What's about to happen here is because of the minister's bloody-mindedness. We're going to vote a bill up to the other place and it's going to get rejected by the Senate, where it has been rejected three times already. This is pathetic. It is utterly pathetic. I don't know if there's a minister on the other side of the House who practices a form of politics which is as low as this.

We will not be supporting the amendment, as the minister knew we would not be supporting the amendment. Those amendments are not going to make Australians safer. We actually want to take a practical approach which is going to make good laws in this parliament. I only wish I could say the same of the minister and the government he represents.

5:32 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

Again I repeat that these amendments are important because the people on the government side of the House believe it's actually important that if you're involved in gun smuggling you spend a certain amount of time in prison. If the parliament were to come together to agree to these sensible amendments, what would happen is that parliament would send a very strong message that we believe that this is an extraordinary crime. We believe that gun running is a very serious crime; it's as severe as people smuggling, for example. We believe it's a very serious crime and, as a result, the parliament should come together and make sure that people who are engaged in it serve a minimum period in jail. That is what we're proposing here. That is what we have been proposing in relation to our crackdown on child sex offenders as well.

Labor, even though they introduced mandatory sentencing for people smuggling when in office, apparently now think that mandatory sentencing is a terrible thing in principle. Some of the members that spoke in this debate expressing that point of view actually spoke in 2010 expressing the opposite. But the point is that if mandatory sentencing is somehow evil in principle, then is Labor in office going to repeal the existing mandatory sentencing offences that we have for people smuggling and terrorism? Nobody on the Labor side has answered that question, which is a very reasonable question under the circumstances. Apparently they've had some road-to-Damascus conversion and now say how terrible mandatory sentencing is.

The government won't be changing its position, because we believe firmly that gun smuggling deserves a serious and appropriate sentence. That's what we on this side of the House believe. We believe it because smuggling just one gun can have enormous consequences for community safety and because you're not involved in gun smuggling unless you're doing it for the worst possible purpose. We know that guns are used by organised crime. They use them for standover tactics and violence. When guns fall into the wrong hands and they're moved about the community, they can do an enormous amount of damage.

We've been very concerned about the illegal firearms market since we arrived in office. Since 2013, we've taken very significant measures to crack down on the black market for guns. The National Anti-Gangs Squad, for example, is incredibly successful. We have strike teams based in every mainland state. We also have officers based in Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory as liaison officers. They work side by side with their state and territory police colleagues, and they have successfully taken about 5½ thousand firearms or firearm parts off the streets.

These are the sorts of measures that we've been taking since we arrived in office. But this legislation and the amendments that I've moved to it remain a very important piece of the puzzle. I am disappointed that the Labor Party continue in their apparently ideological opposition to mandatory sentencing. I had hoped that they could join us in making sure that people who engage in gun smuggling actually serve an appropriate amount of time in prison, but clearly they're not prepared to change their minds. I think that is unfortunate for the Australian people. It's going to have detrimental effects on community safety, and they deserve to be condemned for it.

5:36 pm

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In international Disarmament Week, we are definitely all united in this parliament in seeking to end gun smuggling and to ensure that gun smugglers receive the prison terms that they deserve. I also want to join with members on the Labor side to say that the best way to ensure that gun smugglers and gun runners get the prison sentences that they deserve is not to implement a law that will act as a disincentive to people coming forward with information about gun-smuggling offences and to juries committing people in respect of the offences connected with gun smuggling.

We are very concerned about those issues, and we're also very concerned about unintended consequences. I am a vice-patron of the Queensland Rifle Association. I'm not the only one, I hasten to say, but I'm one of the vice-patrons of the Queensland Rifle Association, along with my friend the member for Bonner. Unfortunately, he is not in here tonight, but I know that he takes his vice-patron duties very seriously, as do I. I would hate to see a situation where a member of that rifle association or of any other rifle association, or any other person who had a legitimate and lawful interest in firearms in this country, was caught up in the unintended consequences of what this government and this minister are seeking to do.

Take, for example, a farmer who goes overseas. I've got farmers in my family. Some of them enjoy shooting for sporting purposes. Obviously, they've been pretty handy with guns their whole lives. In fact, I was speaking with one of my cousins about this when I saw him in country North Queensland over winter. What of a farmer who has never been overseas before who goes to the United States, attends a gun show and finds a gun part that he thinks will be helpful to use when he's controlling pests back on the farm? He buys one for himself and one for his mate down the road, thinking that his mate might find it useful as well. He intends selling one to his mate down the road when he gets back to Australia, so he buys two. Upon returning to Australia, he gets caught when he goes through Customs. He's honest with the officer and tells him that he intends to sell one of the parts to his friend. That would satisfy the elements of trafficking, and he would be looking at a mandatory five years in prison if this government's legislation were allowed to get up. Judges would have no choice but to imprison him in the event of that occurring.

What of the unintended consequences? We talk about judicial discretion. We're not talking about ill-informed or unprofessional discretion; we're talking about a situation where judges are entrusted with the obligation to impose a sentence that is appropriate. And the job of our parliament should be to arm those judges with the ability and the power to impose heavy sentences where heavy sentences are warranted. That's the job of this parliament. The job of this parliament is not to restrict unreasonably the sentences that a court can impose in the event that they're appropriate.

The job of this parliament is not to issue directions to a judge to impose sentences mandatorily. If we do that we're not only undermining judicial discretion and the separation of powers but putting judges in a position where they will have to convict and imprison people in the circumstances that I just described. In the circumstance I just described there is somebody—innocently and thinking that it's okay—bringing back these gun parts from another country and intending them to sell them to the farmer down the road. That's not someone who should, in my submission and in my view, be sentenced to five years imprisonment mandatorily because of a decision of this parliament—a parliament!

Parliaments are not ideally suited to predicting every possible combination or permutation of events. We can't lay down a code that describes what should happen in every circumstance or in every event. What we can do is to make laws for the peace, good government and order of this nation; we can set down criminal offences; and we can then equip judges with what they need to ensure that sentences are appropriate. Let's not determine the sentences in individual cases; let's have appropriate laws. (Time expired)

5:41 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2017. I rise to support the bill that was carried by the Senate in February and which the government has sat on for eight months in an act of petulance, which typifies the attitude of this government towards the democratic processes.

Of course, the fundamental disagreement that we have over our position about maximum sentences versus their position of mandatory sentencing shows that they not only act in a petulant manner in the political sphere; they also don't seem to comprehend the need for the separation of powers to be at the core of the functioning of our nation. That principle is something that can't be bargained away. It's a principle which applies at the local, state and federal levels, and it's a principle which people who profess to support the rule of law should just understand as—dare I use the term—a mandatory principle.

But what we see today is a minister who, unlike most people in this place—we often get told that we grow older by multiples of the calendar while we're here—gets less mature the longer he is here.

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

A personal attack, is it?

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister who is prepared to act in a petulant way and an entirely inappropriate way raises the issue of personal attacks. I wasn't going to raise what was said about the member for Cowan during the last election campaign—the member for Cowan, someone who has brought great dignity to this House of Representatives, someone who, in spite of the fact that it was at great risk to harmony and community cohesiveness in Perth, Western Australia, and in our nation, was attacked in the most outrageous way, including by someone who has the title of the Minister for Justice. And that is what is quite extraordinary.

Here we have a bill that could have become law in February. Instead, it's been sat on for month after month, and there has been a failure to bring it on for debate, a failure to accept that the principles that we were putting forward weren't divisible and a failure to act in a mature way, as a minister of the Crown should. The minister was sat down by the Speaker this week—something that doesn't happen too often, I've got to say. I was a minister for six years and it never happened to me. Most people in this place will go through their entire political career and, if they have the honour of being a minister of the Crown, they will never be sat down. It is quite an extraordinary occurrence. But this minister chose to engage in a debate which suggested that the support of paedophilia was something that was a partisan issue, whereas it is something to which everyone in this parliament is opposed in the strongest possible way, which is why he was shut down.

I won't cop that from a government that launches royal commissions based upon politics, whereas the single most significant royal commission that we brought about when in government was into institutional sexual abuse against children. And we did that at great political risk. We did that and it's made a difference to people's lives. To people who all of us know, it has made a difference, and it's made this country better. It's made this country better because we made this decision. Those opposite are just determined to play politics with everything—everything's about politics, which is why you have no credibility and why you're increasingly clutching at straws.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendments be agreed to.

5:56 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that this bill, as amended, be agreed to.