Thursday, 20 August 2015
Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee; Report
I participated in the Senate inquiry into illicit firearms and made a significant contribution to the majority report. I am also one of Australia's 800,000 licensed firearm owners. I lead the Liberal Democrats—the only party in this place that, without exception, stands up for licensed firearm owners.
I am here to say, as plainly as I know how, that licensed firearm owners are not happy. We are not happy that the government is proposing to impose yet more constraints on law-abiding sporting shooters. We are not happy that this is being painted as an issue of national security. We are not happy that lever action firearms, which have been in use in Australia for well over 100 years, are now being described as 'rapid-fire firearms'. We are not happy that the federal government has placed a ban on imports of lever action shotguns with a capacity of more than five rounds, commonly known as 'the Adler ban', while it reviews the National Firearms Agreement. We are not happy that unelected bureaucrats in the Firearms and Weapons Policy Working Group, under the leadership of its chair, Catherine Smith, have been agitating for more restrictions on legal gun ownership since 2005, dreaming up means of prohibition by stealth. And we are not happy that the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, has uncritically accepted the wish list of state and federal police departments without even consulting with firearm groups until very recently.
Last week I managed to blackmail the government into adding a 12-month sunset clause to its Adler ban. This ban was originally introduced as a permanent ban, despite the statement by the Prime Minister that it was temporary. I am not pleased that my blackmail was even necessary. I also blackmailed the government into reopening regular consultations with a long list of representative firearms groups, most of whom had heard nothing from Minister Keenan, despite his claim that he had been consulting them. Again, I am not pleased that blackmail was necessary. I am not pleased that I was the only parliamentarian who was willing and able to extract these commitments. When it comes to sticking up for shooters the Nationals talk a lot, but are short on action. Above all, I am not pleased that neither the sunset clause nor the consultation will deter the government from attempting to further restrict the liberties of law-abiding firearm owners. It is all part of drumming up votes on the grounds of proving how tough it is on terrorism.
The coalition government is struggling in the polls, with little sign of recovery. The only issue on which it seems to make headway is national security, so we continue to be bombarded with thundering rhetoric about the terrorist threat and demands that we accept ever-increasing powers for shadowy 'intelligence' organisations. And before long, we got a manufactured moral panic about guns. How insulting it is to link Australia's 800,000 licensed firearms owners to terrorism! I can hear it now: the government will refer to the lone gunman in Tunisia who shot tourists on a beach, for which Islamic State has claimed responsibility. They will say: 'Just imagine if a lone terrorist with an Adler shotgun were to turn up on Bondi Beach. To prevent Adler shotguns falling into the hands of terrorists, we need to stop licensed firearm owners from obtaining them.' The government will claim that this treatment of gun owners is called for by the inquiry into the Martin Place siege, but this siege involved an offender with no licence using an illegal firearm that had been illegally obtained, with no record of its having entered the country.
It seems that neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister for Justice has bothered to read the Martin Place siege report, either. The report only calls for two key things of relevance to guns. Firstly, it recommends a reduction in the regulation of the licensed firearms market so that scarce police resources can be refocused to frontline enforcement activities aimed at the illicit firearms market and, secondly, a consideration of new technologies to facilitate better administration of firearms throughout the nation; something as simple as sharing firearms transaction data between jurisdictions. The Martin Place siege report contains no call for any further restrictions on lawful firearms ownership or for changes to how firearms are categorised.
It also seems that the Prime Minister and Minister for Justice have not read the Senate inquiry report into illicit firearms. That inquiry heard from police that the firearm of choice for criminals is pistols. Rifles and shotguns are rarely used by criminals, and they are virtually never used for criminal purposes by licensed firearm owners. Nonetheless, it appears that Catherine Smith from the Attorney General's Department is seeking legal advice on whether gradual prohibition via reclassification will allow the government to avoid having to compensate firearm owners whose property is rendered illegal and must be surrendered. This is an outrage. Why do the bureaucrats who work so hard to convince ministers to restrict legal gun ownership have such a striking inability to develop strategies for effectively addressing illicit use of firearms by criminals?
There is significant international evidence about what works to disrupt illicit firearms use, and many practical strategies that could be implemented in Australia. Good, responsible policymaking would reflect this, yet we have never seen anything to this effect. The bureaucrats advising Minister Keenan on firearms are out of their depth, incompetent, or so wedded to an anti-gun agenda that they care little about what will genuinely improve community safety. Linking plans to further restrict legal firearms ownership to terrorism is something even the Greens reject as outlandish. The government is intent on whipping people into such a state of fear about terrorism that bad decisions, which ultimately have nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with poor opinion polls, can slip by unchallenged. Australia's 800,000 licensed firearm owners are not happy. We are sick of being treated as criminals-in-waiting. We are sick of being the scapegoats for poor policy, lazy policing and the kind of stuff-ups that allowed Man Monis back onto the street. And be in no doubt—we will express our disgust at the ballot box. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.