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Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Page: 68

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (18:24): As a person who has more than a passing interest in this matter—in fact, my maiden speech to the New South Wales parliament 30-odd years ago was about gun laws—and as a person who had the honour, and I say 'honour', to represent the federal opposition at a huge rally in Sydney's Domain, where we indicated total support for former Prime Minister John Howard's gun law initiatives, I join with the previous speaker in expressing disquiet over the opposition's contribution to this debate. The member for Cook spoke of diversions and distractions. Quite frankly, I think that encapsulates the total performance of the opposition in this debate.

The opposition's leading speaker on this debate, the member for Stirling, said that the government had only implemented a number of the recommendations that came forward. He did not belabour his argument on any that were not pursued. He did not specifically declare that it was the end of the world if any of them were not pursued. He made some references to a Senate inquiry. He did not seem to have any ideas of his own. Then the member for Cook came along and tried to draw some sort of personal connection with gun problems in this country because a post office in his electorate was the site of the importation of guns. But I live in an area of Sydney which has been characterised by a huge spate of gun related incidents over the last year or so, so for me this a very personal issue.

For the opposition to come in here today, when the government has made serious efforts after a series of police ministers meetings in, I think, June and November last year, and say that this debate is completely about the number of customs inspections concerned with the illegal entry of guns into this country is appalling. Yes, of course both sides of politics would like to minimise the number of guns that, through importation, end up on the illicit market in this country, but if we look at a number of commentators on this problem we find it is very complex. In April last year, the member for Wentworth said that a fundamental requirement is more policing of gun offences in this country. The final report of the national investigation into illegal firearms noted that 44 per cent of the guns we are concerned about were those not surrendered or registered after the Port Arthur massacre, 12 per cent were stolen or the subject of staged theft in Australia, and a mere one-half of one per cent seemed to come from illegal importation. The Australian Crime Commission commented:

The illicit firearm market is predominantly comprised of firearms which have been diverted from the licit market through a variety of means.

It further commented:

Illicit handguns have principally been sourced by criminals who took advantage of differences in state and territory definitions of firearms and other loop-holes—which have been closed for over a decade.

It is a very complex problem, made up of so many elements. So for the opposition to come in here today and say, 'We're going to solve the illicit gun issue in this country by enhanced inspection of imported goods,' is just preposterous.

There are further examples of how complex the problem is. I note that Dr Bricknell, a leading criminologist, pointed to Queensland legislation, where it emerged that deactivated guns could be reactivated and the serial numbers transferred to working weapons. She analysed a major problem in Queensland legislation, a loophole that had partly led to this issue. I note that former Federal Police officer Nigel Phair, director of the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra, who has spent the last four years heading the High Tech Crime Centre, looked at the question of the failure of police authorities to move onto the internet, a major source, as he sees it, of gun problems in this country.

As I say, how guns enter this market is an extremely diverse, complex problem. It is not a matter just to be toyed with and played with by an opposition that is trying to connect this issue with the entry of people by boat into the country. The member for Cook's contribution was really about further haranguing the chamber on the number of boats coming into the country and border security et cetera. It had nothing to do with the issues that we are facing today. We see a variety of real measures in this bill. It will provide for the addition of an aggravated offence to existing cross-border offences based on the disposal, acquisition, taking or sending of 50 or more firearms. It will extend the coverage of the existing cross-border offences, including providing new offences to deal with international firearms trafficking. It will provide for the basic import-export offences to be punishable by a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. These measures are worthwhile and should be commended.

I also note that the shadow minister spoke about listening to the police force. That is his supposed way of dealing with this problem. I wish he would talk to the Queensland government about the police force views on guns in this country, because one of the first actions of the new government in Queensland was to appoint a gun committee for the state. I seem to remember the police force in Queensland going on national television to complain very vehemently about the total domination of this committee by people with commercial interests and other interests in promoting gun ownership in this country. We are seeing in Queensland a situation where the conservative side of politics is trying to, in a sense, please people in the gun lobby. It is nascent. It is not very strong, like in the United States. But this is a leading indicator of the real things that should be done about guns, not rhetoric about importation and the number of crates that are opened at the airports or the harbours. They are putting a committee up there to basically liberalise gun laws, to try and make sure that restrictions, controls and limitations are broken down.

Also, if we are so concerned with regard to gun homicides, gun suicides et cetera in this country, one only has to look at the recent experience in New South Wales politics as to where the agenda is going. I have been very critical of the previous Labor government in New South Wales for kowtowing to the gun interests in that state because they held a few votes in the upper house. And what have we seen since the government of New South Wales has come into power? Very swiftly the very controversial decision to allow shooting in national parks. That is deplored by the very public servants who dedicate their lives to their parks and safety—not just because of mercenary self-interest and the wages they get paid—coming out and absolutely moving towards industrial action because of the way in which that government is again kowtowing to the gun interest.

A series of measures have been supported by national police committees. They follow the 1996 National Firearms Agreement, the reaction of the federal government under John Howard to the Port Arthur disaster, the 2002 national agreement on handguns et cetera. In the spirit I indicated earlier of trying to be nonpartisan in a very important issue for the safety of Australians, I also take the point of commending the former Prime Minister for involving himself in the current debate in the United States. For those who are unaware, John Howard wrote a leading editorial in the New York Times, an opinion piece, last week about the way in which Australia's tougher gun laws after Port Arthur had led to improvements in the safety of Australians.

What is often lost in this debate on guns is that the question of criminal use is minor. Essentially, the real danger of guns is the use in domestic arguments between parties: the danger to the neighbour by the person next door who supposedly needs a gun to protect themselves and who, in a rage over how high the fence is or someone making too much noise, goes out and shoots their neighbour. The other serious reality with gun ownership in this country is the question of accidental death.

I am very much concerned with the performance of the opposition in this debate. After Port Arthur the opposition did the right thing by the Australian people by fully, totally, unequivocally supporting John Howard in a move toward tighter restrictions. If we move in the way that the Queensland government is at the moment in kowtowing to these interests, we will see the reality of what we see in the United States, where the presidential candidate for the Republican party last time, Mitt Romney—and it was so fake, so transparent—had to pretend he liked shooting. He had to go out there. Now we have had the President of the United States also having to parade around as a skeet shooter. Both sides of politics are so intimidated by the National Rifle Association that they have to lower their dignity, lower their morality, to do these kinds of things.

It is interesting to note the debate in the United States. It was only in 1977 that the NRA went down this road of taking total disinterest in the safety of the American people. Before that, they believed in things like making sure that there was a preservation of shooting rights for people in hunting, making sure that there was preservation of national parks et cetera. But an extremist element seized control in 1977, and we have seen the downward spiral since then.

The opposition attempts to give everyone a perception that there is rampant crime all over Western Sydney and that it is all caused by the importation of Glocks from Germany, that it is all related to the federal government's Customs failures. It is interesting to note the figures in Australia. There has actually been a substantial improvement in the low level of gun homicides in the country. For 2001 the rate was 1.06 per 100,000 people. But before 2001 the rate was never, ever, in any one year at all, lower than 1.67 per cent. That is in contrast, of course, to the United States picture, where 31,000 people are killed a year, and 16,700 of them are actually murdered. There is a rate of 867 guns per 1,000 citizens, and 30 to 40 per cent of homes own them.

If we allow a wider proliferation of gun ownership in this country, if more people have guns in their hands, then more people have a direct interest in preserving the rights of that lobby group, and its power is enhanced. These are the real issues at hand with regard to gun ownership in this country. The opposition is unfortunately trying to politicise this debate today where the government is providing a series of measures. The final throwaway line from the opposition was that they support the measures, but it was accompanied by a lot of rhetoric which was carrying on about border protection and every other issue except that which is at hand today. I commend the legislation.