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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 697

Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (17:48): The government bill before us today, the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2016, seeks to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for firearms trafficking. I opposed it last time it was before the Senate; I oppose mandatory sentencing. The sentence for individuals found guilty of firearms trafficking should be set by a judge—not by a politician and not by a shock jock, but by a judge. Only a judge can know all the circumstances of the guilty individual and their deeds: whether they were the ringleader or the accessory, whether they were coerced, whether they have done it before. The punishment cannot fit the crime unless factors such as these are considered. Mandatory sentencing is an attack by the executive on the judiciary.

We have seen attacks on the judiciary by the executive recently in the United States. Such attacks can be popular, but they undermine one of the safeguards keeping us from an authoritarian society. When the executive attacks the judiciary, they undermine the rule of law. This is an attack on our civil society and on our freedom. I call on all parties in this place, each of which has been dipping into President Trump's playlist, to resist the temptation to attack our system of law for cheap political points.

The government bill before us today also seeks to increase maximum sentences for firearms trafficking. The maximum term of imprisonment would double from 10 to 20 years, and the maximum fine would double from $450,000 to $900,000. Not to be outdone, the Nick Xenophon Team is pushing for an amendment to triple the maximum term of imprisonment to 30 years. Also not to be outdone, Labor is pushing for an amendment to increase the maximum penalty for extensive firearms trafficking to life imprisonment and a fine of $1.35 million. Neither the Liberal-National government nor the Nick Xenophon Team nor Labor have pointed out a single case where the current maximum penalties have been applied. In fact, they have failed to point out a single case of a successful conviction for firearms trafficking. And nobody has paused for even a second to consider whether firearms trafficking is a problem or why it might be. Could it possibly be similar to the situation with recreational drugs? Drug trafficking would not be a problem if our national policy was not one of prohibition. Just ask Portugal. Could it be similar to trafficking in illicit cigarettes and tobacco, something that did not even exist until tobacco taxes were jacked up so high that cheap smuggled cigarettes became attractive? Nobody has demonstrated why the problem of firearms trafficking is sufficiently serious to justify this bill. In fact, nobody has talked about how serious it is at all. The suggestion is that it is not at all serious. It looks to me as if the bill's only purpose is to appear tough on crime—and, of course, tough on those wicked, wicked evil guns.

I do not like to see firearms in criminal hands. They give law-abiding firearms owners a bad reputation. But this bill will do nothing to keep them in safe hands. If you really want to deter firearms trafficking, you have to make the trafficker think there is a strong chance they will be caught. Instead of doing the hard yards of working out why firearms trafficking might be more attractive than it used to be, if, indeed, it is, and why our customs and police forces are failing to stop firearms trafficking, if, indeed, they are, and then instead fixing the problem, we have the Liberal-National government, the Nick Xenophon Team and Labor just fiddling with the statutes, as if the problem of firearms trafficking can be eliminated at the stroke of a pen. This is lazy and deceitful.

The Liberal Democrats reject the idea that you can increase a maximum penalty and a problem goes away. I reject this bill. I reject the silly amendments and I am dismayed by the parties in this place who support them.

(Quorum formed)