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Monday, 21 November 2016
Page: 2714

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (19:35): From the outset, I want to say very clearly that the opposition fundamentally rejects Senator Leyonhjelm's position on gun control. Therefore, we do not support his motion to disallow Customs (Prohibited Imports) Amendment (Shotguns and Shotgun Magazines) Regulation 2016. This is in the context of the lived history of Australians. In the aftermath of the Port Arthur shootings in 1996, a cross-party understanding was reached on restricting ownership of firearms in Australia. It was not a partisan matter then, nor should it be now.

Labor accepts that the Howard government's initiative in removing rapid-fire weapons from circulation was necessary for community safety. The decline in gun related deaths in this country speaks for itself. It is idle to object, as gun advocates like to do, by saying that deaths have not fallen in each year since 1996. They have fallen overall. As Ms Lesley Podesta, the CEO of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, has pointed out, in the decade before Port Arthur there were 11 mass shootings in Australia—more than one a year. In the decades since Port Arthur, there have been none. It is undeniable that the gun buyback scheme and the introduction of tougher gun laws have made this country a safer place in which to live. I acknowledge that there are those in the chamber who hold a very different view, but that is the view held by very many Australians, and I am glad to put it on the record this evening. The number of guns in Australia was reduced by one fifth and the number of households with guns dropped by a half. There has been a decline in homicides by gun and a dramatic drop in suicides by gun. According to data published in the American Law and Economics Review in 2010, an estimated 200 lives a year were saved by the changes in Australia's gun control regime.

The core principle of that regime was that rapid-fire weapons should be subject to the greatest restrictions. Some argue that shotguns, including the lever-action shotgun that is prohibited under the important regulations that Senator Leyonhjelm wants to disallow, should be treated differently. That is an evasive quibble. What matters is that we are talking about a rapid-fire weapon with a large magazine capacity. The international version of the Adler shotgun under discussion here this evening has a magazine capacity of seven rounds, with another in the chamber—in other words, it can fire up to eight shots in quick succession. It can easily be modified to hold up to 11 rounds.

The Adler is now listed as a category A firearm—the least restrictive category and the easiest to buy. Category A licences are held by recreational shooters and are notionally limit ownership to guns with the lowest rate of fire, such as bolt-action rifles and shotguns that can hold only two cartridges. Pump-action shotguns, because of their higher magazine capacity and relatively higher rate of fire, are normally classified as category C or D, the kinds of licences held by farmers and professional shooters. It is anomalous that the Adler is in category A. It happened because, when the Howard government toughened up the gun laws under the National Firearms Agreement in 1995, lever-action shotguns were not considered worthy of attention, unlike pump-action shotguns. The Adler shotgun was popularised by Robert Nioa, the son-in-law of the member for Kennedy. He tried to import thousands of Turkish-made seven-shot Adlers, but when a temporary ban was implemented, they were modified by regulation to become five-shot weapons.

Senator Leyonhjelm would like to overturn this restriction. For Senator Leyonhjelm this is a matter of libertarian principle, a principle whose pursuit he is prepared to trade with his vote. The tragedy is that the Liberals in government have been prepared to accommodate Senator Leyonhjelm in regard to this matter.

Labor recognises that the vast majority of firearm owners in Australia comply with the law, and we acknowledge the work that their associations have done in promoting safe storage and responsible use of firearms. But the law must also concern itself with the minority who might not act responsibly. Gun technology will evolve, and it is appropriate that firearms legislation be reviewed from time to time. When the review of the National Firearms Agreement is complete, Labor will give careful consideration to any recommendations that are made. But we see no reason why the prohibition of the import of this particular type of shotgun should be disallowed. On the contrary, prohibiting the import of this lever-action shotgun is consistent with the intent of the changes in federal and state laws since the horrific shooting at Port Arthur.

Senator Leyonhjelm may rage against what he sees as the government's refusal to honour a deal on making the import ban subject to a sunset clause. He is a libertarian; let him rage. Extending the import ban is a sensible decision in the interests of community safety. It is spurious to argue that this is a case of the nanny state overriding the rights of individuals to arm themselves. For Labor, the practical work of saving lives and preventing violence will never be sacrificed to libertarian ideological purity. Saving lives will never be sacrificed to Liberal political expediency.

Until recently, Australians had reason to believe that the government would maintain bipartisanship on this matter. Who would have expected the current lot of Liberals to trash John Howard's legacy; but that is exactly what they have done with a succession of dirty deals and backflips on this issue. In August 2015, the government banned the Adler A110. Five days later, touting for votes against Labor's amendments to a migration bill, the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection cut a deal with Senator Leyonhjelm. I want to reflect on the language used by Senator Leyonhjelm in his opening comments today. Senator Leyonhjelm, I understand completely your sense that there has been an abuse of the trust that you have displayed in your own dealings with the government, when you said that you voted with the government in line with your agreement. You would not have voted that way, you declared. It was about a bill that you said was a matter of no consequence. I think they were your exact words—'a matter of no consequence'.

I would not call a matter entitled the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015 a matter of no consequence. In fact, it is a piece of legislation that is of great consequence and has significant impact on Australians. The government practises, as you clearly said, in dirty dealing. 'Dirty dealing' is how you described it, Senator Leyonhjelm, and I think that in that regard you absolutely hit the nail on the head. It is certainly palpable that you are very, very disappointed. But that is the style of governing and the style of communication—the contemptuous style of government—which you saw firsthand in the last parliament and now seems to have been replicated by Mr Turnbull, who has traded in his leather jacket and decided to wear Tony Abbott's suit and try the same sort of technologies.

Five days after touting for votes against Labor's amendments to a migration bill, the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection cut a deal with Senator Leyonhjelm. They agreed to restrict the Adler ban by means of a sunset clause, which would have lifted the ban in August this year. But as that date approached the government was embarrassed by the prospect of having to explain to the Australian people why they were willing to allow these weapons into the country. So they buckled, and repudiated their dirty deal with Senator Leyonhjelm. More recently, there have been rumours of yet another backflip on gun safety. The Prime Minister was said to be considering watering down Australian gun laws in the hope of persuading the crossbench in the Senate to wave through his anti-union legislation. Let's face it: if it worked once, why wouldn't he try it again? It worked for Tony Abbott; so, flattering Tony Abbott, I suppose Mr Turnbull thought that he should have a go and see if it would help him get some tricky legislation through, too.

What we have seen with this Adler shotgun saga has shown that the government cannot be trusted on gun safety. Senator McKenzie, the member for Parkes, who I note is in the chamber, and the member for Moore, are all calling for this gun to be allowed in this country. These events have also shown—

Senator McKenzie: Point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. My understanding of the standing orders is you need to refer to senators by their correct title. I am actually a senator for the great state of Victoria not the member for the seat that Senator O'Neill was talking about.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Ketter ): That is a point of order. Thank you. Senator O'Neill.

Senator O'NEILL: Senator McKenzie, I acknowledge that you do represent the state of Victoria. I could not call it 'the great state'! Being a senator from New South Wales, myself, I will have to claim ascendancy there. We are the premier state, New South Wales!

What we see from Senator McKenzie in calling for this gun to be allowed is a very, very different view of the importance of protecting the Australian people. Labor is very proud to stand in support of gun laws that have seen improvements in the expectation to be able to move freely in our community without fear of being shot by such implements as we are discussing here this evening.

The events that we have seen also show weakness and incompetence on the part of the Prime Minister and his predecessor, the member for Warringah. They have presided over a mess in which ministers have traded guns for votes and then broken their promises when keeping them became inconvenient. The manoeuvrings over the Adler ban were even caught up in the continuing rivalry between Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott. Australians were treated to the unedifying spectacle of the Prime Minister and the member for Warringah sparring in the other place over just what was promised to Senator Leyonhjelm in August last year. Senator Leyonhjelm was watching with great interest, I am sure, to see what happened, but the outcome was that Mr Abbott lost that round. However, you could not say that the Prime Minister has emerged unscathed, because the government has changed its position on multiple occasions and no-one in the government is willing to take responsibility for the multiple messes they have made in managing this piece of legislation and this commitment to Senator Leyonhjelm, through the many sagas that have emerged.

It is not Labor's approach to the matter. We are clear: we will not risk undermining public safety in order to chase votes in the Senate, and that is what we are talking about—trading guns for votes. We will not be complicit in the weakening of Australian gun safety laws, which have kept us safe for two decades and set a benchmark for the world.

On the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation started a national petition urging states and the federal parliament not to water down gun laws. Almost 60,000 people have signed that petition, and opinion polls regularly indicate that 80 per cent of Australians want the strict controls on firearms to be maintained. That may annoy libertarians like Senator Leyonhjelm, but it should surprise no-one.

Australians know that they live in a safe country, and they value that fact. They do not want this country to imitate the United States, where gun crime is prolific and people are unsafe—the country in which gun ownership is normalised under an 18th century understanding of the need to maintain a militia. The modern consequences of that outdated statute in the US are beyond tragic. Mass shootings have become commonplace in the United States. That country has more than 300 million guns in circulation, and that is more than one per person. One in 10,000 Americans will die as a result of gun injury. That compares with one in 100,000 Australians. I think we should stick with the Australian statistics, and stick with the legislative reform and gun control that we enacted as a bipartisan national response to the tragedy of Port Arthur, which captured the public imagination and helped us crystallise the sort of society that we want to live in and the sort of society in which restrictions on the freedom of some who would seek to use particular guns for particular purposes are balanced against the freedom and safety of the many.

When we look at the statistics, Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by someone using a gun than Australians are. That is the consequence of the sort of open slather gun regime that Senator Leyonhjelm thinks is acceptable. The mass shootings in public in the US have been well publicised. We know the tragic litany of place names—places we have never visited but where we know this great tragedy of the abuse of guns has occurred—Orlando, Charleston, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech. But, as gun control advocates like Lesley Podesta remind us, gun violence is not always in a public place. I am not referring to those Hollywood style shootouts between cops and gangsters. Every day in the US five women are murdered with guns—five every day. Many of those deaths take place in the context of domestic violence. We know that the scourge of domestic violence is still far from being ended here in Australia. Moving to American style gun laws would only make the present danger that so many women and children experience even worse than it already is.

It must be hoped that the review of the National Firearms Agreement will not be subverted by those who want this country to go backyards on gun safety. Making it easier to import and own Adler A10 shotguns would undoubtedly do that. It is a disgrace that the government has resorted to vote-trading on this fundamental issue of public safety. But, if it now chooses to adhere to the original ban, it can at least redeem some of its sullied reputation.

The power of the gun lobby in the United States is legendary. The argument, 'Guns do not kill people, people do,' is bunkum. Enlighted Americans look to Australia as an example of what can be done with widespread public support to control firearms and make the country a safer place to live. Community protection and individual or personal security are not something to be privatised, as they are in the United States, by individuals arming themselves. Proper regulation of firearms is a responsibility of the state and not a case of individual freedom.

In closing, can I say that this must be one of the more underhanded, convoluted and bungled deals in recent memory: trading access to firearms to secure firearms in the Senate, guns for votes. Those are the sorts of headlines we have seen swirling around this government; it does not get much worse. From a New South Wales point of view, this has the added intrigue of the greyhounds, coalition bickering and a Deputy Premier who has fallen on his sword after abandoning his people. It all reeks of disarray, division, weakness and deceit in the coalition within both the federal and state tiers of government. It reeks of horse trading away public safety for the sake of power.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott introduced this ban in the context of concerns around the Lindt Cafe siege in Sydney in 2014. And he backed that view up just last month when he said:

With a heightened terror threat, there is just no way that any serious Coalition government, any government in the tradition of John Howard should be allowing rapid fire weapons on a very large scale into our country.

We have made very clear Labor's position that we fundamentally reject Senator Leyonhjelm's position on gun control. But we also reject the way in which this government interjects with the crossbench. The crossbench are duly elected by the Australian people. In the last parliament we heard the name-calling from those opposite, from those who are supposed to be leading the government, of people who sat on the crossbench. Perhaps they have learnt their lesson and are name-calling a little less; but they are dirty dealing as much as they have ever done.

Senator Leyonhjelm's comments this evening are explosive. He said there is a better chance of the government getting agreement if it negotiates to secure crossbench votes in a way that is honourable and if it negotiates in good faith. Senator Leyonhjelm is clearly indicating to anyone who is watching around Australia that this is a government that no-one trusts. Even when getting their legislation through depends on doing a deal, they cannot be trusted. Senator Leyonhjelm honoured his deal—as much as I disagree with it. He gave his word—in the way businesses and decent people around Australia operate every day. He gave his word. But the government could not keep its word; it could not lie straight in bed; it is a government that you cannot trust. Senator Leyonhjelm has spelt out very clearly that that is absolutely the case: this is a government that you cannot trust. Labor will not support this disallowance motion by Senator Leyonhjelm.