Second Reading: Firearms Amendment (Trafficking and Other Measures) Bill 2015

MR HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the Firearms Amendment (Trafficking and Other Measures) Bill 2015. The Greens will be supporting this bill. From this there will not be any need to go into consideration-in-detail, which will no doubt please the members on the other side. The Greens certainly support the efforts to tighten gun control in Victoria and particularly this bill in relation to the possession and trafficking of illegal firearms, the illegal manufacture of firearms and the theft of firearms. Tougher gun control has always been a high priority of the Greens at all levels of government. We fully understand that a safe community is one where gun ownership is restricted and where there is a low number of guns in the wider community.

I will go into the details of the bill, which aims to give Victoria Police powers to stop the flow of illegal firearms and to prosecute individuals engaging in unlawful activities involving illegal firearms. The bill makes amendments to the Firearms Act 1996 to lower the number of unregistered firearms that is a trafficable quantity from 10 firearms to 3, and it expands the time frame in which trafficking is deemed to occur from seven days to 12 months. The bill also provides for higher penalties for persons who manufacture firearms without the appropriate licence and creates a new offence for the unlawful manufacture of firearms. The increased penalties will be up to 5 years imprisonment for unauthorised manufacture of category A or B longarms and paintball markers and up to 10 years imprisonment for the unauthorised manufacture of category C, D or E longarms or handguns.

I understand these amendments bring Victoria into line with other jurisdictions, which is important, given the need for a fully national approach to gun laws. The bill also clarifies the circumstances in which a person is taken to be in possession of a firearm, which we are seeking further clarification on. Lastly, the bill amends the Crimes Act 1958 to create a new offence of stealing a firearm.

As I said, the Greens have a long history of supporting gun control, which started in the Parliament of Tasmania back in the late 1980s, when Christine Milne and Bob Brown, both now former Greens leaders, were members of the Tasmanian Parliament. The Greens moved several times to ban automatic and semiautomatic weapons during their time there. Three bills were introduced into the Tasmanian House of Assembly attempting to tighten firearms legislation, but unfortunately none of those bills was supported by that Parliament.

Following the tragedy of the Port Arthur massacre, where 35 people were killed and 23 were injured, we saw nationwide gun law reform. You often hear the term 'unspeakable tragedy'. That was a tragedy that we needed to speak about. We needed to understand how and why it happened and we needed to talk about gun law reform in this country.

I read from an editorial from Christine Milne recounting the time after the massacre:

When the government, opposition and Greens came together in the emergency meeting that followed, there was no appetite from either of the major parties for banning weapons.

But the presence of the world's media and the pressure I was able to bring, as the Greens were in the balance of power, resulted in a tripartite committee charged with gun law reform as a dignified and appropriate response to the tragedy.

During that process John Howard came to Tasmania, saw what we were doing, and announced federal bans on semiautomatic and automatic long-barrelled weapons.

I read this to point out that the Greens have a longstanding history of supporting law reform, since well before the political consensus existed to allow it to occur.

The gun law reforms that were introduced in Australia have gone on to become the envy of the world. Unfortunately in the USA, where they no doubt have a crisis in terms of gun crime and mass shootings, President Obama said in response to another mass shooting:

When Australia had a mass killing … it was just so shocking to the system, the entire country said, 'We're going to completely change our gun laws' …

They did and it hasn't happened since.

He is right: our gun laws are the envy of the world, but we cannot become complacent. An article by Lenore Taylor in the Guardian at the weekend headed 'After 20 years, Australia's gun control debate is igniting once again' lists several concessions that have been made to our nationwide gun laws over time, with a number of concessions made for the gun lobby. It says:

The original agreement restricted gun licences to adults but now several states have brought in 'minor's permits' and in Western Australia there are no age limits for club shooting.

The agreement established a 28-day 'cooling-off period' between applying for, and getting a gun, but four states have now done away with that for second and subsequent guns.

And while almost a million guns were handed in and destroyed in the post-Port Arthur amnesty, imports have now taken the … gun inventory back to 1996 levels.

In Victoria issues have been raised recently with the prevalence of guns in our community and the existence of a growing illegal firearms market. Just recently two police officers were shot at when they intercepted a car in Moonee Ponds. Melbourne's north-west has been identified as a red zone where police are discovering guns every two days, including in routine car intercepts. Drive-by shootings are occurring on average every six days, and there is an increasing trend of children, some as young as 16, carrying guns. There are more than 250 000 longarms and 10 000 handguns in the illicit firearms market. We are seeing a growing trade in firearms stolen from properties in rural and regional Victoria and later used in criminal activity in the city.

The amendments in the bill are an important step forward in reducing gun crime in Victoria. Without vigilance in relation to gun crime and gun laws the safety of our communities is at risk, as is our reputation as having world's best practice gun laws.

As has been mentioned previously in the debate, there is concern about the Adler self-loading shotgun, which is capable of firing eight rounds in 8 seconds. This is just the sort of rapid-fire weapon we sought to outlaw after Port Arthur. It is the sort of weapon we do not want in our community. But what we have seen is the federal government, after suspending imports, now doing some sort of deal with a member of the Senate crossbench, in exchange for an unrelated vote in relation to border protection, to introduce a sunset clause on the ban on imports. It is simply outrageous that a government that is seemingly bereft of a moral compass should be wheeling and dealing our community safety in exchange for votes on unrelated amendments. The Adler shotgun is a dangerous weapon and serious restrictions are needed for it in Australia.

Recently a Senate-initiated inquiry into illegal firearms was chaired by soon-to-be-retiring Greens senator Penny Wright. It found some uncertainty around the number of illicit firearms in Australia, and on that basis the committee made a number of common-sense recommendations for additional funding to allow programs such as the National Firearms Monitoring Program and the firearm theft in Australia monitoring report to continue on an ongoing basis. It also recommended funding for the Australian Institute of Criminology to conduct a review of current data collection and reporting arrangements. These are common-sense reforms that one would have thought would attract support from across all parties, but unfortunately the coalition thought that was not the case. Unfortunately what we have seen from The Nationals federally — and I hope The Nationals in Victoria show a bit more fortitude on this issue — is the idea that the Greens are waging some sort of scare campaign when it comes to gun laws.

Senator McKenzie from The Nationals apparently said that claims that most guns are not trafficked into Australia but stolen from registered owners had not been substantiated in the findings of the inquiry. She is reported as having said:

What we have found is clear evidence provided by witnesses, including law enforcement agencies, that most guns used to commit a crime do not originate from licensed firearms owners but are in fact illegally imported.

The article continues:

Senator McKenzie said illicit firearms on the streets were a concern and a continued focus on stamping out illegally imported firearms must be a top priority for government.

I appreciate that the federal coalition has a strong focus on border protection, but when it comes to guns in this country it has got it wrong. You only have to look at the statistics from the Australian Crime Commission. In its submission to the Senate inquiry it says that:

Theft remains a primary method for diverting firearms to the illicit market. An average of 1545 firearms per annum was reported stolen to Australian state and territory police during the period 2004–05 to 2008–09.

The majority of firearms reported stolen are rifles, followed by shotguns. Handguns generally make up less than 10 per cent of stolen firearms. This broadly reflects firearm ownership patterns in Australia. In relation to the status of illegal importation of guns, the Senate committee report notes evidence that firearms and firearms parts are illegally imported into Australia, although the Australian Crime Commission data indicates that these comprise a small portion of all firearms diverted into the black market. A report by customs found that the Australian illicit firearms market is predominantly comprised of firearms diverted from licit domestic sources. Firearms tracing found that less than 1 per cent of firearms traced were illegally imported.

As Senator Wright has stated: 

The evidence is clear: firearm theft from registered owners is a significant contributor to the number of illicit firearms on Australian streets. Like it or not, it is true.

In conclusion I say that Victoria and Australia have some of the world's best gun laws. They have served us well and succeeded in keeping our community safe. But we cannot be complacent. Gun crime continues to be a problem in Victoria, with the theft of legal weapons being a source of that problem. On that basis, the Greens will be supporting this bill.