Monday, 13 February 2017
Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2016; Second Reading
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I rise to strenuously oppose the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2016. This bill amends the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Criminal Code) in order to impose mandatory minimum sentences of five years jail for buying or selling guns or gun parts across state or national borders and doubles maximum penalties for the offence to 20 years jail. The justification for these changes is purportedly to:
… reflect the serious nature and potential consequences of supplying firearms and firearm parts to the illicit market.
The introduction of a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment for five years for these purported 'firearms trafficking offences' implements the government's ridiculous so-called 'Keeping illegal guns off our streets and our communities safe' election policy released on 26 June 2016. This repressive Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2016 is just the latest illustration of the sanctimonious and illogical anti-gun philosophy pervading a significant part of the Liberal Party.
This bill obviously raises two separate issues. The first issue is the imposition by this bill of draconian penalties, including mandatory jail terms and up to 20 years maximum jail for any offence, even for a victimless crime. The second issue is the obsessive ongoing effort by enemies of freedom in this country to undermine the inalienable right of private citizens to possess firearms, of which this legislation is but the latest iteration. Throughout history, disarming citizens has always been a high priority for tyrants and totalitarian collectivists.
First and foremost, Pauline Hanson's One Nation is utterly opposed to mandatory jail terms under any circumstances. We believe it should be up to the courts to impose the appropriate penalty. Secondly, we are implacably opposed to the imposition of jail terms for deemed offences and other victimless crimes, and certainly the idea that there should be a 20-year potential jail sentence for a victimless crime is utterly offensive for a nation that claims to be a liberal democracy. In terms of firearm laws, One Nation is absolutely opposed to efforts to undermine this crucial freedom. Unfortunately, it seems that fewer and fewer political parties share this view.
It may be hardly surprising that the feral, pest-hugging collectivists in the Greens hate the idea of private ownership of firearms, just as they hate all other individual freedoms. The Labor Party, too, has in recent years leaned further and further to the Left and in the process has become more and more hostile to firearm ownership. However, I am afraid to say that the Liberal Party has a sorry recent history on supporting firearm ownership, and in recent years has actually been worse than Labor.
Let us not forget that in 1996 former Prime Minister John Howard, now a hero of the Labor Party, wasted nearly $400 million of taxpayers' money to forcibly acquire the registered legal guns of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Australians as a half-baked, knee-jerk, populist reaction to the tragedy at Port Arthur. The repressive gun laws that subsequently resulted were made subsequently worse by various anti-individualist state governments, which apparently saw the victimless crime of unregistered gun possession as a more and more heinous sin.
Let us consider what actually happened in Port Arthur. A violent mental patient slaughtered scores of innocent people with an illegal weapon that had been previously surrendered to police in Victoria, a weapon that was sold back into the illegal gun market, apparently by a corrupt policeman. What rational reaction should we have had to this? Did the former Prime Minister conclude that dangerous mental patients need to be committed, corrupt police need to be severely punished, and illegal weapons need to be cracked down upon? No, he did not! Instead, the former Prime Minister cracked down on legally registered weapons owned by law-abiding citizens, none of whom had anything to do with a crime! He might as well have banned bicycles for all the relevance of this action. The absurd fallacy, apparently shared by many in this chamber, is that all guns are equally likely to be used in a crime and all gun owners are equally likely to commit one—an absolutely absurd contention. In fact, licensed firearm owners and registered weapons were not only not involved in the Port Arthur tragedy, but they continue to be uninvolved in almost all gun related crime.
Many lies continue to be told regarding the effect of this gun buyback, but here I would like to put the truth on record. Apologists for firearm restrictions have repeatedly claimed that the 1996 buyback resulted in a significant decrease in firearm homicides, but this is actually total nonsense. Prior to 1996, there was already a clear downward trend in firearm homicides, and this pattern simply continued after the buyback. The same pattern occurred in New Zealand, which continues to have liberal firearms laws, which do not even require firearm registration. Again, as with suicides, both non-firearm and firearm homicides fell by similar amounts. In fact, the trend in non-firearm homicides shows a much larger decline between the pre-buyback and post-buyback periods. This clearly indicates that crime has been falling for other reasons. It is therefore true to say that firearm homicides declined after 1996 but completely false to say that the buyback had anything to do with it. I would like the Senate to note in particular that the decline in the rate of homicides has not followed the rate of gun ownership. The number of licensed firearm owners has greatly increased since 1996, while the rate of gun related crime has declined.
I would also like to debunk another of the myths of the anti-gun lobby here, and that is the claim that there is a major risk of legally registered guns being stolen by criminals. In fact, the Australian Institute of Criminology reports that only one in every 2,500 guns is stolen, a rate of four-hundredths of one per cent. Of the 664 guns stolen, as described in their recent report only three were used in the commission of a crime.
The firearms phobia that began with John Howard's forced buyback culminated in that state of affairs that former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in a fit of self-righteous indignation, called 'our gold-standard gun laws'. All I can say is that if our repressive gun laws are a 'gold standard', then by the same criteria Stalin's Russia would have been considered the 'platinum standard'.
The truth is that legal firearms ownership not only does not lead to gun related crime, but it actually reduces it. More legal guns actually mean less crime. It is no coincidence that the state of Illinois in the United States, which has some of the most restrictive gun laws, has one of the highest rates of gun crime, whilst the state of Texas, which has some of the most liberal gun laws has one of the lowest rates of gun related crime.
If we look at the details of the latest attack on firearms ownership in the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2016, we find the confected crime of 'firearms trafficking', for which these draconian penalties are proposed. The phrase 'firearms trafficking' immediately conjures to mind images of cut-throat smugglers with crates of Kalashnikov assault rifles and RPG-7s in the hold of a rusting cargo ship bound for somewhere in deepest, darkest Africa. However, in fact in this bill it turns out that what is called 'firearms trafficking' may consist of nothing more than buying or selling interstate a single gun part—for example, a firing pin—or buying a shotgun or bolt action rifle not used in any crime, or even carrying an unregistered gun across state borders and letting someone else borrow it. In this bill, use of the term 'firearms trafficking' is ridiculous anti-gun propaganda. Deeming buying or selling a single gun or gun part as firearms trafficking is like calling buying a single joint 'drug dealing'. The intentional misuse of the term is simply an attempt to dramatise the offence to help to justify the absurdly harsh penalties. Worse still, this bill will have unintended consequences in which law-abiding, licensed firearm owners may face up to 20 years jail simply by ordering a small part for one of their registered guns from a website which, unbeknown to them, sources its stock from interstate or overseas.
In addition to the confected nature of the victimless offence, the penalties too are something that might be expected for a horrendous crime: minimum five-year mandatory jail terms and maximum penalties of 20 years prison—is the government serious? Imposing mandatory minimum five-year jail terms and 20-year maximum penalties, as proposed, are penalties which may well be in excess of those imposed on people who commit sexual assault, robbery or even, in some cases, murder. These unbelievably severe mandatory minimum and maximum penalties for a victimless crime must be considered a new low for this very illiberal Liberal government and are totally out of all proportion to the seriousness of the offence.
Sadly, and in many ways reflecting the progressive shift to the left—to the control side of politics—of all mainstream political parties, the penalties that this bill proposes reflect the socialist approach of assuming that everyone is equally likely to commit a crime and trying to prevent the actions of a criminal minority by punishing everyone indiscriminately. If we are to still claim Australia is a liberal democracy that values the rights of the individual, it is incumbent on us to promote freedom over control. That is what Pauline Hanson's One Nation is all about—individual freedom and responsibility—and the voters are getting it.
I further draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that the imposition of increased maximum penalties and mandatory jail terms set out in this bill are opposed by both the Australian Human Rights Commission and the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, while the mandatory minimum jail sentences are opposed by the Law Council of Australia. So, even if these organisations may not share One Nation's unqualified support for law-abiding ownership of firearms, they do at least share our implacable opposition to the severe penalties that the bill automatically proposes.
In the final analysis, however, this terrible legislation reflects the Liberal Party's complete acquiescence to the left-wing agenda—to the control side of politics—of prioritising punishment for politically incorrect victimless crimes, while going soft on violent offenders. If this bill is passed, people who use guns to commit serious crimes, including drug dealing and armed robbery, may actually face significantly lesser penalties than someone simply buying a gun part from a website. Instead of imposing draconian penalties on people who simply possess firearms, the government should be imposing stronger penalties on people who actually use guns to commit crimes. Accordingly, we urge all our fellow senators to join our One Nation colleagues in denouncing this draconian, Stalinesque bill and vote against it.
The government bill before us today, the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2016, seeks to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for firearms trafficking. I opposed it last time it was before the Senate; I oppose mandatory sentencing. The sentence for individuals found guilty of firearms trafficking should be set by a judge—not by a politician and not by a shock jock, but by a judge. Only a judge can know all the circumstances of the guilty individual and their deeds: whether they were the ringleader or the accessory, whether they were coerced, whether they have done it before. The punishment cannot fit the crime unless factors such as these are considered. Mandatory sentencing is an attack by the executive on the judiciary.
We have seen attacks on the judiciary by the executive recently in the United States. Such attacks can be popular, but they undermine one of the safeguards keeping us from an authoritarian society. When the executive attacks the judiciary, they undermine the rule of law. This is an attack on our civil society and on our freedom. I call on all parties in this place, each of which has been dipping into President Trump's playlist, to resist the temptation to attack our system of law for cheap political points.
The government bill before us today also seeks to increase maximum sentences for firearms trafficking. The maximum term of imprisonment would double from 10 to 20 years, and the maximum fine would double from $450,000 to $900,000. Not to be outdone, the Nick Xenophon Team is pushing for an amendment to triple the maximum term of imprisonment to 30 years. Also not to be outdone, Labor is pushing for an amendment to increase the maximum penalty for extensive firearms trafficking to life imprisonment and a fine of $1.35 million. Neither the Liberal-National government nor the Nick Xenophon Team nor Labor have pointed out a single case where the current maximum penalties have been applied. In fact, they have failed to point out a single case of a successful conviction for firearms trafficking. And nobody has paused for even a second to consider whether firearms trafficking is a problem or why it might be. Could it possibly be similar to the situation with recreational drugs? Drug trafficking would not be a problem if our national policy was not one of prohibition. Just ask Portugal. Could it be similar to trafficking in illicit cigarettes and tobacco, something that did not even exist until tobacco taxes were jacked up so high that cheap smuggled cigarettes became attractive? Nobody has demonstrated why the problem of firearms trafficking is sufficiently serious to justify this bill. In fact, nobody has talked about how serious it is at all. The suggestion is that it is not at all serious. It looks to me as if the bill's only purpose is to appear tough on crime—and, of course, tough on those wicked, wicked evil guns.
I do not like to see firearms in criminal hands. They give law-abiding firearms owners a bad reputation. But this bill will do nothing to keep them in safe hands. If you really want to deter firearms trafficking, you have to make the trafficker think there is a strong chance they will be caught. Instead of doing the hard yards of working out why firearms trafficking might be more attractive than it used to be, if, indeed, it is, and why our customs and police forces are failing to stop firearms trafficking, if, indeed, they are, and then instead fixing the problem, we have the Liberal-National government, the Nick Xenophon Team and Labor just fiddling with the statutes, as if the problem of firearms trafficking can be eliminated at the stroke of a pen. This is lazy and deceitful.
The Liberal Democrats reject the idea that you can increase a maximum penalty and a problem goes away. I reject this bill. I reject the silly amendments and I am dismayed by the parties in this place who support them.
I thank honourable senators for their contributions to the second reading stage of the bill, which will increase maximum penalties for firearms traffic offences. The risk posed to community health and safety by trafficked firearms endures over time. Due to their imperishable nature, firearms can remain in the illicit market for decades and be used in the commission of countless crimes over their lifespan.
It is regrettable that the opposition has not supported mandatory minimum sentences. Although the opposition claims to oppose mandatory minimum sentences, it has support them on several occasions—for example, in 2010 with people-smuggling offences in the Migration Act. As a general rule, mandatory minimum sentences ought not to form part of our criminal law, except in exceptional circumstances. It is the government's position that these circumstances are exceptional and mandatory minimum sentences are reserved for the most serious crimes. And, as Senator Williams noted, firearms trafficking is a serious offence for which the penalty must fit the crime. Not only is it, itself, a serious offence but it provides the gateway for the commission by those who traffic in firearms for the commission of other serious offences. So the government is unconvinced by the argument that this case—that is, the serious offence of trafficking in firearms—does not fall within the exception to the general rule against mandatory minimum sentencing.
The government appreciates the support of Senator Xenophon and senators from the Nick Xenophon Team for strong maximum penalties for firearms trafficking offences. However, once again, it is unfortunate that they do not see the benefit of taking a similarly strong approach to enforcing minimum sentences for such grave offences.
I commend the bill to the Senate. I look forward to the committee stage of the debate. But the resolution of the government to deal appropriately with what I think most members of the Australian community do regard as a serious matter which regards serious treatment, particularly in the sentences which the courts should award to those convicted of such crimes, is something the government is determined to deal with.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.