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National Firearms Program Implementation Bill 1998
Bills Digest No. 224 1997-98
This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official leg al status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.
National Firearms Program Implementation Bill 1998
In April 1996, 35 people were killed and others wounded in Port Arthur, Tasmania by a lone gunman, Martin Bryant. In May 1996, a meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory Police Ministers was convened. At that meeting agreement was reached on a national scheme for firearms ownership, use and storage in Australia. Among other things, the Police Ministers agreed that there should be restrictions on the importation, ownership, sale, resale, transfer, possession, manufacture and use of self-loading centrefire rifles, self-loading and pump-action shotguns and self-loading rim-fire rifles.(1) Agreement was also reached on a licensing and registration scheme for firearms in accordance with national standards.
Further elements of the agreement were an amnesty period(2) and buyback scheme to encourage firearms owners and dealers to surrender prohibited weapons. It was also agreed that the Commonwealth would meet the costs of compensation and fund the States and mainland Territories for establishing and administering the buyback scheme and implementing licensing and registration systems.(3)
In the period following the May 1996 Police Ministers Meeting, the Commonwealth, the States and the Territories introduced legislation responding to the firearms agreement. Commonwealth statutes included the Medicare Levy Amendment Act 1996 and the National Firearms Program Implementation Act 1996. The former statute increased the rate of the Medicare levy for the 1996-97 financial year in order to fund the firearms buy-back scheme. It was estimated that the levy would raise about $500 million.
The National Firearms Program Implementation Act 1996 appropriated money from Consolidated Revenue and empowered the Attorney-General to authorise payments to the States(4) for the purpose of providing compensation to firearms owners and dealers under schemes established to implement the national firearms program. The Act also enabled the Attorney-General to authorise other payments to the States for purposes connected to the national firearms program.
The National Firearms Program Implementation Act 1997 (Cth) extended compensation to certain automatic weapons not covered by the May 1996 Police Ministers Agreement. These weapons included sub-machine guns and heavy machine guns. The buyback scheme had revealed the existence of such weapons in the community. The 1997 Act empowered the Attorney-General to reimburse the States and Territories where they had paid compensation for such surrendered weapons consistent with the spirit of the national gun buyback scheme.
As at 20 May 1998, a total of 643,674 firearms had been surrendered in mainland Australia and $319,398,716 paid in compensation.
The National Firearms Program Implementation Bill 1998 relates to Norfolk Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island. These islands are among Australia’s external territories. Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island are located in the Indian Ocean. Norfolk Island is 1,676 kilometres north-east of Sydney.
Clause 3 is the definitions provision. It defines ‘Territory’ to mean Norfolk Island, Christmas Island or Cocos (Keeling) Island.
Clause 3 also defines ‘qualifying compensation.’ ‘Qualifying compensation’ is compensation which is paid under a compensation scheme approved by the Attorney-General where compensation is paid for the surrender of property during an amnesty period or for loss of business during the amnesty period. The compensation must relate to self-loading rifles, self-loading shotguns or pump-action shotguns or to firearms whose surrender is consistent with the spirit of the national firearms program.
Clause 4 provides that the Attorney-General may notify an amnesty period for a Territory in the Gazette .
Subclauses 5(1) & 5(2) provide that the Attorney-General can authorise payments of qualifying compensation, reimbursements or advances to a Territory. Subclause 5(3) provides for the repayment by a Territory of any excess amounts of qualifying compensation. Over-payments are recoverable as debts due to the Commonwealth [ subclause 5(4) ].
Subclause 6(1) provides that the Attorney-General can authorise other payments to a Territory connected with the implementation of the national firearms program. Subclause 6(2) provides that total payments to the Territories cannot exceed the amount stipulated in subsection 5(2) of the National Firearms Program Implementation Act 1996 .
1. See The Australian Firearms Buyback, Media Kit , Fact Sheet, ‘Setting National Standards on Firearms Ownership.’
2. This amnesty period expired on 30 September 1997.
3. Australian Firearms Buyback, op.cit.
4. The legislation defines ‘States’ to include the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.
2 June 1998
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services
This paper has been prepared for general distribution to Senators and Members of the Australian Parliament. While great care is taken to ensure that the paper is accurate and balanced, the paper is written using information publicly available at the time of production. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to the Information and Research Services (IRS). Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion. Readers are reminded that the paper is not an official parliamentary or Australian government document. IRS staff are available to discuss the paper's contents with Senators and Members and their staff but not with members of the public.