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Wednesday, 21 August 1996
Page: 3335


Mr CAMPBELL(10.10 a.m.) —It was refreshing to hear the member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) after the pious platitudes we got from the member for Banks (Mr Melham), who clearly does not understand the issue—or, if he does, is prepared to submerge it in some ideological nonsense or web which he has spun for himself. I predict that in the foreseeable future we will see conflict break out amongst various ethnic groups in Australia. I do not think it is too unrealistic to say we will see violence between warring groups of the Lebanese community. When that happens, they will have military style guns.

The National Firearms Program Implementation Bill that we are debating is the result of a very bad decision on the part of the Prime Minister (Mr Howard). I was complaining to a senior Liberal about this. He said I must understand that Howard had a very strong religious conviction for what he was doing. That may be so. It does not excuse bad law. Law that cannot be enforced is bad law. Law that is going to make criminals out of innocent, decent people is evil law. That is going to be the net result of this legislation.

It has been based right from the start on a false premise. We were told by the Prime Minister and by every advocate for this legislation that we cannot afford to go down the American road, that that would be a disaster. Every member of this House knows this is the one area where we are not going down the American road; we are going blindly down the American road in so many other ways, but in this area we are clearly not.

Gun related violence is dropping in Australia. It has dropped since statistics were first kept in 1915. As the member for O'Connor said, suicide accounts for by far the greatest number of deaths—in fact, 400 males and 20 females. If you want to do something about the number of suicides—and I certainly think we should—you do not tackle it effectively by way of a gun law, because you only need one bullet for suicide. You should tackle it through its cause, which is overwhelmingly the economic system. Economic pressure is what drove a lot of those people to suicide, particularly in rural areas. Break-up of families also contributes significantly to both suicide and murder. There is absolutely no doubt about that. The Family Law Court is out of control. Nobody is prepared to tackle it. The child support system is also visibly unfair. They have been the biggest drivers of suicide, which is not going to be affected by this bill.

Even if you do ban all guns, every single gun, you will not reduce the suicide rate. There are other countries that have far higher suicide rates and they do not use guns. One phenomenon which seems to be emerging in Australia is suicide by way of the head-on crash. Ambulance people have told me that in their view these crashes are very often simply suicide, which puts enormous trauma on the other party, I think quite unfairly. I would rather that people made their own individual arrangements if they are going to commit suicide.

Also, we must look at the cost involved—$500 million, as the member for O'Connor said. If you want to use this money to save lives, how many more lives would be saved if you spent it on dangerous parts of our highways, on road engineering? What about diabetes research? Diabetes, with all its attendant complications, is probably the biggest cause of death in this nation. I believe that with suitable investment we could get vast improvements, certainly for the quality of life of people. But, of course, that would be too logical to be entertained by a Prime Minister who was simply grandstanding on a tragedy that occurred in Australia—a tragedy on which his actions will have no effect at all; he knows that—and a tragedy that will occur again because its occurrence is driven by factors other than the availability of guns.

I agree with the member for O'Connor that there is no need for military style self-loading rifles or automatic weapons. It should be noted here that, while members supporting this legislation confidently talk about automatic weapons, automatic weapons have been illegal in this country since 1928. That does not mean that you cannot get them; of course you can get them. They are available on the black market now and they will be available after this legislation is passed.

The government always had the power to ban the import of these weapons and it did not do so. That is the hypocrisy of governments. The Labor Party was just as culpable as the present government. It always had the power to ban the import of these weapons and it did not do it—something that was screaming out to be done. That is a matter of irrefutable fact.

In my lifetime, on three occasions I have had to rely on professional shooting for a living. In the 1950s I was shooting both rabbits and kangaroos. In 1970, with the pastoral downturn, I existed largely by shooting kangaroos. I had a high powered 243 rifle with a mag-power scope. I know that with that bolt action rifle I could do far more damage than anyone could ever do with a self-loading 22. It is not unreasonable that with a gun like that you would be able to group the five shots in the magazine in a cigarette packet at 200 yards, something you simply cannot do with a 22. The truth is that this legislation is largely going to ban the 22 self-loading rifles and shotguns. These types of guns are not the problem in Australia but they are the ones we are going to attack because they are the visible targets.

How are we going to attack these types of guns? A fellow came to my office and said, `My mother gave me this gun on the farm when I was 16. I have not fired it in years, but she is dead now and I am not going to give up.' I said, `Is it registered?' He said, `It was registered in South Australia but if they come for it I have lost it.' That man has an emotional attachment to that gun. If he is caught with it after legislation goes through, he is looking at draconian penalties. If he is in South Australia he would be up for a $20,000 fine and/or four years in gaol.

We have talked about uniform gun legislation. In Tasmania it is a $5,000 fine and two years in gaol. Two years in gaol for owning a gun like that is absolutely draconian. If we want to make this legislation work we are going to have to impose those penalties. You will see public opinion turn massively against this sort of legislation. Two years in gaol if you are in Tasmania is draconian. In South Australia the penalty is far, far worse.

The police ministers looked at crimping some years ago, in 1987 I think it was, and decided it was not worth the effort. But there is no doubt that crimping would have limited the shotguns to two cartridges—exactly as the member for O'Connor said. The fact that the Prime Minister refused to accept that in the face of the advice from all the police ministers from every state was an act of sheer panic. He was frightened that he would be seen as weak and ineffectual if he accepted this very logical amendment. That is a very unfortunate and sad way to be making laws in this country. The member for O'Connor was right. The banning of self-loading shotguns in the sporting area will impact disproportionately on women and young people because they are the people who use them most.

Let us look at the proposed legislation in Western Australia. Western Australia always had the tightest gun laws in Australia. Had the Prime Minister acted in a responsible manner he could have got the Western Australian legislation across the whole nation. Now we have blown it because we have a mishmash of laws that are unenforceable and which will not be enforced. There will be very low levels of compliance.

In Western Australia now the green paper proposes to take away trial by jury for gun related defences. Does anyone seriously believe that if this erosion of civil liberties is allowed it will not spread? After all, if you are not going to have trial by jury in this area why should you have it in others? Of course it will spread. It reduces the onus of proof. It gives the right of entry to the police on the basis that they think you might have a gun.

Many years ago in Western Australia we gave this right to fisheries inspectors, which at the time I said was a draconian intrusion into people's civil liberties. A fisheries inspector would enter your house without any warrant and search your refrigerator. Fortunately there were very few fishing inspectors. But now we are arming every single policeman in the state with the same power. If anyone thinks this will not be used for intimidation or fishing expeditions by the police force, then they are living in cuckoo land. It will be used that way. It will be used to harass people.

Another problem is that the legislation puts all aspects after the bill is passed into the regulations and gives the power to the police commissioner, who could wake up tomorrow and for no reason other than sheer caprice say, `I have decided to ban single shots' or even slingshots, and there is no appeal against it. This denies the parliament the right to discuss this matter. It denies the public the right to be able to lobby their politicians on it. It is another example of what has happened so much in this country, where politicians have abdicated their responsibilities and passed their rights, powers and influence over to individuals. It is very worrying. It is about time we in parliament stopped doing that.

I was at Halls Creek the other day where, as members would have seen in the newspapers, there was a riot involving about 200 Aboriginal people. It is not a new occurrence. It simply got out of control. The same sort of thing has happened on previous occasions and the police have been able to control it, so it did not get the big publicity. On this occasion they lost control and substantial damage was done, probably significantly less than the media reported. I suspect that the cost of the damage was probably less than $300,000—not the reported $1 million—and that it was fairly limited: the police station, a roadhouse and minimal damage in other areas.

I must say in passing that, while that behaviour of those Aboriginal people—they were not Aboriginals from Halls Creek; they were from the desert communities—was inexcusable, there were reasons for it. The reasons are longstanding, have been festering for a long time and have never been addressed. In fact, it goes back to the time when Gerry Hand was the minister. Gerry Hand spent over $4 million in the Balgo area. Contrary to the wishes of the people, the money was wasted. Had it been put into Balgo, this incident might not have happened. Quite frankly, young people in Balgo live today in mind-numbing boredom, and so a visit to Halls Creek for a rodeo is a big event.

What happened on that occasion? They came in with money. When the money was gone, they were at the point of going back when a whole lot of money was distributed to them in Halls Creek instead of back on the station. What happened in Halls Creek pales into insignificance, in my view, when measured against the behaviour of people in the assault on Parliament House the other day. For them, there was no excuse. It was an un-Australian act of gross vandalism. The union movement was extremely naive not to realise that there were certain elements there that were looking for that sort of publicity. Of course, they have done to the whole union movement a lot of damage, and that is very unfortunate.

At the height of the riot at Halls Creek, when the police had retreated into the police station, the public could still communicate with them by phone, and many people did phone up and ask, `What do we do?' The advice from the police was, `If you can't leave town, arm yourselves with whatever you can get. You have to look after your own interests, your own family.' Many people in Halls Creek—business people—did exactly that. They stood guard, with guns, on their own premises until the crisis had passed. I think they did exactly the right thing. Had I been there, I would have done exactly the same thing.

How can you now take those guns off those people when the police in that town have said, `This is all we can advise you to do'? I suspect there will be a very low level of compliance in Halls Creek, and so there should be. It is quite clear that self-protection, the protection of your assets and the protection of your family is a right that every single citizen should have and should be able to exercise.

We are seeing here $500 million of clearly unnecessary expenditure. The legislature could have taken away military style guns, but the House should realise that these guns could only be confiscated, could only be claimed, with the support of the shooting fraternity. You had that support. The sporting shooters know who has these guns, they know there is no need for them, and they were quite happy to support the government in getting control of these guns, but that goodwill has been lost. That goodwill will not now be forthcoming, and these guns in vast numbers have gone underground and will continue to go underground.

A great opportunity was lost by a posturing Prime Minister. It will be some time before the ramifications of this are seen, and it will be seen to be ineffective. When we talk about gun registration, let us remember that New Zealand abandoned it because it did not work. The advice of the Victoria Police was to abandon it because it was not working. You have only to look at the tragedy in Tasmania where it is now quite clear that the gun used was in fact handed in in a police amnesty in 1987. How do we explain this? The system has not worked in the past.

Members of this parliament know—and I have been told by policemen—that many of these guns were grabbed by policemen for their collections because there were obviously some very interesting guns amongst them. Today I do not own a gun, but I certainly resent the fact that, if I now decided that I wanted to go recreational shooting again, I would find it very difficult to get a gun again. I resent that very strongly, because I do not intend to engage in the mass slaughter of people.

In the case of the tragedy at Port Arthur, the warnings were there. This guy had been certified. Reports, we now know, were made about his behaviour, and no action was taken. There was a breakdown in the mental health system. We have seen that happen right across this nation. There have been cuts under both governments. The Labor Party did the same thing. For reasons of political correctness, I suspect, we are putting people out in the community.

Many of these people are quite harmless in the community but are a danger to themselves. They were much better in professional care. The quality of life of these people has dropped enormously. That is probably the root cause of the Port Arthur tragedy. It is not going to be addressed by this sort of legislation.

I suspect that the Prime Minister knows that it is not going to be addressed by this legislation, and every member of this parliament, if they think logically and rationally about it, knows that that is the case. They simply voted for a knee-jerk reaction because they thought it was popular to do so.