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Thursday, 4 March 2004
Page: 26102

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (12:23 PM) —I want to pursue, in the somewhat shortened time available to me, some aspects of the Customs Legislation Amendment (Application of International Trade Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2003. This is an omnibus bill, and the area that I want to focus on first is to do with the gun buyback scheme. I would like to refer to some comments that have been made in the Courier-Mail recently about gun buyback. There have been some comments from the Queensland police minister that refer to the importation of firearms into Australia. In the Courier-Mail of 23 February 2004 there was an article called `Buyback cuts gun crimes by half' by Michael Corkill. The article said:

Griffith University criminologist Dr Tim Prenzler said crime had decreased Australia-wide in recent years and the homicide rate had more than halved to 0.24 for each 100,00 people since 1996.

... ... ...

However, Sporting Shooters Association of Australia Queensland president Geoff Jones said he remained unconvinced that the decrease in gun crime was solely the result of the gun buyback scheme.

Mr Jones said he regarded the handgun buyback as a “joke” because virtually all handguns used in crimes were illegally imported.

... ... ...

Former police minister Tony McGrady said there was a “real danger associated with the illegal importation of weapons from other countries” and urged the Federal Government to tighten security.

“The fewer concealable firearms there are in the community, the less chance these weapons have of falling into the wrong hands,” he said.

Dr Prenzler said the Government definitely needed to take steps to address the illegal gun trade, if it had not already done so.

“If responsible people are penalised, then that's the price of safety, as it is for road regulations or dog ownership,” he said.

That is Dr Prenzler's view. The inclusion within this omnibus bill of some particular provisions in relation to firearms is quite significant, because it shows the determined attitude of the Commonwealth to this question. We have had the initial gun buyback, which definitely has been quite successful. It was followed up by the handgun buyback. Both of those processes have not been without pain. Some people have been very angry about the decision to take firearms out of the community. Both of those processes have been pursued effectively by the government. The proof of the pudding is in the reduction in gun related crime that is now well documented across the country.

In this legislation today there is a proposal that enables the minister to prevent the delivery of restricted goods if their delivery is not in the public interest. That particular provision operates in relation to the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations of 1956, particularly in relation to firearms. Under this legislation the minister will be able to detain goods to allow the incremental release of those goods or to re-export those goods. In fact, if the minister were to acquire the goods, this particular amendment would also enable the minister to provide compensation for those goods. So the very point that has raised concern in some quarters about firearms being imported into the country is being addressed by the Commonwealth just as effectively as the Commonwealth dealt with the initial problems—it was first out of the blocks—in relation to the proliferation of guns, semiautomatic type weapons and other weapons and in relation to its subsequent move on the handgun buyback. The government has been comprehensive in wanting to deal with that issue and I think people now see how genuine and effective it has been. Another article in the Courier-Mail, this time from 3 January 2004, stated:

FIREARM deaths in Australia dropped by almost 50 per cent during the period from 1991 to 2001.

Further, an article in the Courier-Mail on 23 February 2004 stated:

GUN-RELATED crime in Queensland has more than halved in eight years in what has been hailed as a victory for the Federal Government's controversial gun buyback scheme. Queensland Police Service figures obtained by The Courier-Mail reveal that firearms offences committed against people in the state slumped to just 400 in 2002-03—the lowest figure in at least a decade and 424 offences fewer than in 1996-97.

I want to highlight those particular provisions because, as I have said, the Commonwealth is determined on this issue to provide a better environment for all Australians. We have looked at the way in which the gun buyback scheme has operated. We have been careful to ensure that, where follow-up is required, we have revisited the scheme. The handgun buyback has caused pain, but I think people could recognise that there was a need for action—particularly after the incidents in Melbourne, which highlighted the concerns out there, and people responded to that.

I think there are many initiatives to come in relation to the importation and control of firearms in our community. The government will continue to address these matters over time with the enthusiastic support of the states, which I commend them for. I have other comments in relation to this bill but, it being 12.30 p.m., I seek leave to continue my remarks when the debate is resumed.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.