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National Firearms Program Implementation Bill 1997
House: House of Representatives
Commencement: Royal Assent
The purpose of the Bill is to extend, to a limited extent, funding for the program of compensation for the nationwide firearms buyback to those automatic weapons not strictly falling within the categories of weapons which were identified in the nationwide agreement entered into by the Australasian Police Ministers Council in 1996. The weapons now covered include sub-machine guns, heavy machine guns and similar weapons.
The National Firearms Program Implementation Act 1996 passed both Houses of Parliament on 20 August 1996 and 21 August 1996, respectively, and received the Royal Assent on 4 September 1996. That Act was an appropriation from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and it also empowered the Attorney-General to authorise payments by way of financial assistance to the States and the Territories for the purpose of providing compensation to firearms owners and dealers. The funding of this compensation to gun owners and dealers was offset by an increase in the separate Medicare levy estimated to raise around $500 million. The Act also permitted the payment of financial assistance to the States and the Territories for purposes directly connected to the compensation scheme and for a nationwide licensing and registration scheme.
The main impetus for this nationwide guns buyback scheme was national shock and concern over the tragedy at Port Arthur in Tasmania, where on 28 April 1996, 35 people were killed and others wounded or traumatised in a shooting spree perpetrated by a lone gunman. The gunman used an automatic rifle. The Commonwealth Government's response was to implement a national buyback of military style self-loading rifles, pump-action shotguns and similar weapons. The gun buyback scheme expires on 30 September 1997.
The gun buyback scheme has brought to light that there are other prohibited non-conventional weapons in the community, such as sub-machine guns and heavy machine guns. These types of weapons were not expressly covered by the initial Police Ministers' Agreement but it is obvious that they should be surrended by the community.
This Bill empowers the Attorney-General to reimburse the States and the Territories where they have paid compensation for these surrended weapons consistent with the spirit of the national gun buyback scheme.
This issue is not without its problems. It is reported that the Northern Territory Police have already paid $440,000 to a Melbourne businessman under the gun buyback scheme for 22 World War II Hispano aircraft canons imported into Australia. The article notes that it is not understood how the weapons arrived in the Northern Territory.
As of noon, 3 September 1997, 517,766 firearms had been handed in under the gun buyback scheme.
2 It is estimated that the number of guns surrended could exceed 575,000 by the time of the cut-off point for the surrender of firearms on 30 September 1997.
Clause 3 contains the key provision in the Bill. This key provision is the definition of qualifying compensation. Under the National Firearms Program Implementation Act 1996, qualifying compensation was defined in section 3 in a way which applied to 'self-loading rifles, self-loading shotguns or pump-action shotguns'. This Bill has a new definition of qualifying compensation which includes the broader category of:
firearms or other weapons certified by the Attorney-General (whether before or after the compensation is paid) to be firearms or other weapons whose surrender is consistent with the spirit of the national firearms program.
Clause 4 empowers the Attorney-General to authorise payments to the States (which, by a standard definition in the Bill, includes the Territories) for the reimbursement of qualifying compensation paid by the States. Advances may also be made by the Attorney-General and any over-payment is refundable to the Commonwealth.
Clause 6 appropriates money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the purposes of the legislation.
Obviously, the Northern Territory Police had to resolve the issue when presented with the 22 aircraft canons. It may be interesting to hear any further details (e.g. setting the price) of the circumstances surrounding the reported buyback of the 22 aircraft canons at a cost of $440,000 by the Northern Territory Police.
1. Greg Thomson, 'Buyback bungle: legal action option', Northern Territory News, Thursday, September 11, 1997.
2. House of Representatives, Hansard, Questions Without Notice, National Firearms Buyback, 3 September 1997: 7381 ( Proof).
3. David Elias, '553,854: the arsenal', The Age, 20 September 1997.