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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6221

Senator BARNETT (2:18 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Justice and Customs, the Hon. Chris Ellison. Will the minister inform the Senate of any new Australian government initiatives to tighten hand gun regulations across Australia?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —That is a very important question from Senator Barnett of Tasmania, a state which knows only too well of tragedy in relation to the illegal use of firearms. I am happy to report that at the Australasian Police Ministers Council last week the Commonwealth initiatives that were put forward were accepted in relation to hand gun law reform. But at the outset I want to stress that the priority remains with the use of illegal firearms. Each year, we have the theft of 4,200 firearms in Australia and that is a diversion from the legal sector to the criminal sector. That still remains a high priority for the Commonwealth government.

In relation to the agreement reached last week, what we took to the Australasian Police Ministers Council were proposals which the Prime Minister put to the premiers and chief ministers when they met before that. We outlined a detailed proposal which would achieve a fair balance between public interest and safety on the one hand and the interests of legitimate sporting shooters on the other. We identified in excess of 250 types of hand guns that were not applicable to legitimate sporting events and we also identified some 10 disciplines of semi-automatic hand gun events which were legitimate sporting shooting events. We said to the Police Ministers Council that we have a proposal here which is a chance to bring sweeping hand gun law reform. As well as that, what we sought from the states and territories was further regulation in relation to the licensing of hand guns, the storage of hand guns—because of the theft problem that I mentioned—and empowering sporting shooting clubs to deal with undesirable members, because they had come to us and said: `We have an issue here. We have a situation where we have tried to expel members. They have taken us to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and overturned our decisions.' Of course, our proposals dealt with that.

Needless to say, the tragic events of Monash University brought this all into sharp focus. The proposals that the Commonwealth have put forward would have resulted in the alleged shooter not having access to any of those guns. The list of hand guns that we have drawn up is a draft list and that is being worked on between officials and the sporting shooter sector. We will reconvene as a Police Ministers Council and re-examine the 19 proposals that we have agreed on, and it will then go forward to the Council of Australian Governments in mid December. We have here a golden opportunity for all the state and territory governments to work with the Commonwealth in relation to the Commonwealth's initiative to regulate the use of hand guns in the community and also to outlaw those hand guns which are not applicable to legitimate sporting events.

What we have done in this whole process is look at the interests of legitimate sporting shooters, and they have been working with us in identifying those events and ways that we can tighten controls, but of course you have to remember that the constitutional responsibility of the day-to-day regulation of hand guns lies with the states and territories and we have a distinct problem in the number of thefts of firearms each year, where firearms are stolen and diverted into the criminal market. That is where the problem lies and that is what we must address. That is part of the proposal that we have put forward and we will be taking that back to the Police Ministers Council when we meet in late November.