Thursday, 26 November 2015
Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee; Report
I rise to make some remarks on the committee's report on gun-related violence in the community. The Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, has taken a courageous stance on firearms issues of late. I mean this in the way Sir Humphrey Appleby did when he told Jim Hacker he was about to make a politically risky decision. The Abbott government was keen to be seen to take a firm stand on terrorist activity following the Lindt cafe siege. It wanted a new national security announcement each week. For some bizarre reason, someone decided a seven-shot shotgun was a terrorist risk. A five-shot shotgun is apparently okay, and a 10-shot rifle or a 10-shot pistol is also of no concern. Terrorists, it seems, are only interested in shotguns with more than five rounds.
So to prevent them from falling into terrorist hands, an import ban was placed on lever-action shotguns with magazines greater than five rounds. The seven-shot Adler 110 shotgun, made in Turkey, was the only firearm immediately affected. There are other seven-shot, lever-action shotguns available, but they were imported with five-shot magazines and modified locally. So they were not affected. And, of course, terrorists would not be interested in them anyway.
This ban on importing Adlers was introduced in anticipation of the review of the National Firearms Agreement. The review would ratify the ban as well as recategorise a number of other firearm types. The review was led by the Attorney-General's Department, with involvement by states and territories. When Mr Abbott announced the ban, he said it was temporary, pending the outcome of the review. In reality, it was to be permanent. Changes to the National Firearms Agreement had already been agreed by bureaucrats in the Attorney-General's Department. I threw a spanner in the works by leveraging my vote on another matter to make the ban genuinely temporary. In exchange for my vote, the government introduced a second regulation letting it lapse in 12 months. But, as I said, with planned changes to the National Firearms Agreement, Minister Keenan expected this to be redundant. This was, frankly, duplicitous, and I will not forget it.
However, Mr Keenan also needed the states to agree. He took his proposal to cabinet to amend the NFA by recategorising lever-action shotguns, placing those seven-shot terrorist magnets in a category reserved for professional shooters, from whom terrorists would never obtain them, obviously, while keeping them away from Australia's 800,000 licensed and law-abiding shooters, who, of course, terrorists target all the time. Incidentally, there was no plan to compensate those who found themselves in possession of a newly prohibited firearm, which they were forced to relinquish.
Mr Keenan argued that the states were in support of his proposal. Perhaps the low-level bureaucrats who attended the Firearms and Weapons Policy Working Group convened by the A-G's Department were on board. More likely, they simply kept quiet. In any case, their ministers were not. In fact, I had written confirmation that at least two state ministers were not in favour of the Adler ban. I informed some members of cabinet of this. So cabinet, very sensibly, asked Mr Keenan to seek confirmation from state ministers that they did, in fact, support his proposal. When I heard about this, I was able to notify shooting organisations and encourage them to contact their state ministers. Of eight jurisdictions, just one letter of support was tendered. Others did not respond or expressed opposition. The New South Wales Minister for Police, Troy Grant, bless his heart, openly declared his support for licensed firearm owners and his opposition to imposing additional restraints on them in the name of terrorism. They do not come much better than that.
What Mr Keenan succeeded in doing was to galvanise hundreds of thousands of licenced shooters into a state of outrage not seen since the backlash over John Howard's gun laws. For the government, this is all pain for no gain. It also showed how shooters can work towards a common goal, both inside and outside parliament. Numerous shooting organisations and individuals made their views known to their state ministers, convincing them not to support Keenan's proposal. It was a mass movement, a true team effort, and nobody can claim ownership of the outcome. Meanwhile, Mr Keenan, having found himself in a hole on this issue, continues to dig furiously. He is truly courageous. He says he hopes to revisit the proposal next year, and is aiming to enlist the support of police commissioners rather than police ministers—in other words, bypass elected representatives. His courage means he is dragging the government into a fight with Australia's sporting shooters.
But this courage is bipartisan. Despite many Labor voters being among our 800,000 sporting shooters, Labor's acting justice spokesman, Graham Perrett, recently proved he is every bit as courageous. He too linked the Adler shotgun with terrorist activity. Indeed, you could almost hear him channelling Minister Keenan throughout his press release. And neither has much idea of what he is talking about. Among the many bloopers made by Mr Perrett was his description of the Adler as 'high powered and illegal'. It is neither. It is a standard 12-gauge shotgun—no more, no less. Mr Perrett said: 'Gun critics have said that the Adler A110, which can shoot multiple rounds in rapid succession, is faster and more powerful than other models of firearms. As gun technology is updated, our laws should be reviewed to ensure that they keep up with advances in technology.' This is utter bollocks. There are thousands of lever action shotguns already used by sporting shooters. In no way does the Adler or the other two brands of lever action shotguns on the market represent new technology.
As a fairy story, Mr Perrett's statement rivals that of Samantha Lee from Gun Control Australia. When she popped up in the media talking about the Adler, she mistook it for a rifle. She also stated no other lever action has a magazine like the Adler shotgun—wrong. She stated the Adler has a pistol grip—wrong. She said its lever action is sophisticated and called it 'advanced technology'—also quite wrong. The technology is 130 years old.
Licensed firearms owners may not agree on much—apart from their interest in shooting—but they will vote the issue. It would be insane for either the government or the opposition to go to war with a huge chunk of Australians based on the ridiculous assumption that imposing further restrictions on them will somehow reduce the risk of terrorism. What it will do is encourage Australia's 800,000 shooters to vote for the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps my message to Mr Keenan should be: go ahead, Minister, make my day.
Leaving the National Firearms Agreement untouched—with no special constraints on the Adler or other lever action shotguns—neither weakens nor strengthens firearm laws. However, there is another way of looking at this, and it concerns our Federation's health. It would do wonders for competitive federalism for the National Firearms Agreement to be abandoned, with the states left to determine what works best for them. Some may take a more restrictive approach, some a more relaxed approach. We will then see which is best in determining which minimises violent crime and even how it affects terrorism.
Everyone supports governments taking strong action against criminals using firearms. But licensed firearms owners have suffered from being presumed criminals for too long. Being linked to terrorism is just too much. We simply will not cop it anymore. I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.