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Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee
Ability of Australian law enforcement authorities to eliminate gun related violence in the community

BRICKNELL, Dr Samantha, Research Manager (Violence and Exploitation), Australian Institute of Criminology

BROWN, Dr Rick, Deputy Director (Research), Australian Institute of Criminology


CHAIR: Welcome. Thank you for talking to us today. The committee has received a submission from you as submission No. 76. The Senate has resolved that an officer of the department of the Commonwealth or of the state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy. It does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. Officers of the department are also reminded that any claim that would be contrary to the public interest to answer a question must be made by a minister and should be accompanied by a statement setting out the basis for the claim. Before I invite you to make an opening statement, do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to your submission?

Dr Bricknell : Just the one. The table that has the number of firearm thefts for the most recent year for Tasmania should be 63 and not 212.

CHAIR: Would you like to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions?

Dr Brown : No, we have got no opening statement. We are happy to move to questions.

CHAIR: Some submissions to the inquiry have suggested a need for greater data. In fact, I think it is fair to say at this stage of the inquiry that many submissions and witnesses have suggested that. It certainly seems to be a theme of the inquiry. Particularly, the suggestion that I am coming to is the idea of a hot-spot map that identifies the incidences of illicit firearm use. Do we have that kind of data now and, if so, where are the hot spots and, if not, would it be possible to generate that kind of data?

Dr Brown : I understand that that is an issue that has been picked up by some jurisdictions. I believe New South Wales may have done some hot-spot mapping of where firearms are being used. In terms of its use it depends on the concentration of those incidents. A hot spot is only of any use where you have a concentration of incidents in time and space. If those hot-spot maps show that instances are sparsely populated or spread out over time, while that may be interesting from a statistical perspective, it really has limited utility in terms of what can then be done with a hot-spot map of that kind. Really, by undertaking a hot-spot analysis you are making the link between an incident and the location and time essentially. So the question then becomes: what do you do in those kinds of locations where those instances have occurred? I am not sure the extent to which that particular kind of analysis is particularly useful for understanding illicit firearms other than to identify there may be broad areas where incidents are more likely to happen. But the next question is: what do you then do? We do not have that kind of data. As far as I am aware, there are no data sources available to be able to undertake national hot-spotting of that kind. I think it is really probably only useful anyway at the jurisdictional level.

CHAIR: Thank you. That was a particular issue that was raised back in Sydney some time ago now. Your submission states:

Similar proportions of rifles and handguns were recorded in seizures from serious and organised crime groups, which is a much higher proportion of handguns than commonly recovered.

Can you tell us why you think serious and organised crime groups target handguns disproportionately to other thefts?

Dr Bricknell : Certainly it is the view of law enforcement that handguns are the weapon of choice amongst the criminal fraternity. That might be for a range of reasons. Some interesting analysis that was done in the UK interviewing offenders who had been convicted of firearm offences, and some of them were gang members, showed handguns not only served a defensive role but also an offensive and a symbolic function. There is this gun firearm culture that has emanated within the UK and is probably occurring within Australia, where handguns not only have the power to harm and to maim but also have that symbolic function of to threaten and intimidate the person on the receiving end of that threat. That is the view amongst law enforcement. They are also concealable, they are easy to carry around, that sort of thing, and they can pack a punch when needed to.

CHAIR: What information do we have about how serious and organised crime groups are obtaining handguns? Can I just go back to your submission, which says:

Stolen firearms represent a ready source of firearms for the illicit firearm market.

Is that the predominant means that you think these groups get hold of these?

Dr Bricknell : We used data from the National Firearm Trace Database, which is collated by the Crime Commission, which they have also used in their various firearms assessments. That was seized firearms that had been recovered by law enforcement between 2002 and 2010. From the analysis that we did with that data—but also the Crime Commission did as part of their assessment a couple of years ago and they are doing at present—it showed that theft along with deactivation was a significant source for handguns that are moved into the illicit market and particularly for serious and organised crime.

We have included the caveat obviously to that data that there was a high unknown response rate. I think part of that was that predominantly long-arms rather than handguns—those sorts of firearms and trace analysis are presented to the Crime Commission from law enforcement. Hopefully, with improvements to data we will be able to improve the knowledge about where these handguns are coming from. Certainly from the data that we have at present, it was predominantly a deactivation loophole, which obviously was closed a number of years ago, and theft. We found that of non-restricted handguns theft contributed 50 per cent of handguns to the overall illicit pool that had been seized and around 30-odd per cent to the restricted handguns. So theft did represent a significant contributor to the illicit handgun market based on the data that was available at the time.

Senator McKENZIE: When you say significant, are you meaning statistically significant or—

Dr Bricknell : In terms of the proportion. Obviously, there was a lot of—

Senator McKENZIE: I just wanted to clarify how you were using that word. Thank you.

Dr Bricknell : Yes.

Dr Brown : Also you would expect us to be quite parsimonious in the use of data. I think we would be the first to stress that we are dealing with a seized data source here. That is the best that is available to answer those kinds of questions at the moment. In terms of data, we really have no idea of the extent to which that seized component is representative of firearm, of these types of instances in—they are used by organised crime groups in general. We just assume that—

Senator McKENZIE: So we cannot infer?

Dr Brown : So you cannot really infer. The best we can do is work with the data that is available and put caveats around that. The assumption is that this is representative but we cannot be certain.

CHAIR: We have had a lot of submissions saying the problem is not with theft but with smuggling of illicit weapons. What is the evidence around that? When theft is involved, when guns are stolen, can you tell us where they are most commonly stolen from? Do you have any information about that?

Dr Bricknell : In terms of illegal importation, we can only go on the analysis that we did of the firearm trace database. It certainly demonstrated that from that data illegal importation was a fairly small contributor to handguns and to long-arms as well. I appreciate that there are different views about that, that the New South Wales police do believe that illegal importation is playing a pretty predominant role in terms of handguns coming into the country. Other jurisdictions and other entities within the Commonwealth have differing views. Obviously, in the last couple of years we have had some significant importation issues with handguns coming into New South Wales. But again, we can just go on the data that was available to us at hand. Illegal importation was a fairly small contributor to the illicit firearm market in terms of those firearms seized between 2002 and—

Senator McKENZIE: Seized and then traceable.

Dr Bricknell : And then traced, yes, that is right.

CHAIR: I am also very interested to see that firearms certainly have been recorded as stolen from an approved firearms safe in 58 per cent of reported incidences. What does that tell us about the adequacy of current security measures? Is it potentially that people are not using the security measures available? Maybe safes are being left unlocked or not used in the way that they are designed. Are the requirements for security of safes adequate or is it that they are but they are not being used properly?

Dr Bricknell : I do not think the Institute of Criminology can comment on the adequacy of the storage arrangements. Certainly, there has been discussion about the differences in storage provisions across states and territories. One of the reasons that we did the National Firearms Theft Monitoring Program is for states and territories to look at the adequacy of storage conditions. Yes, the majority of persons who reported a firearm theft between 2005-06 and 2008-09 were storage compliant. We did look at methods of access to those receptacles. In the majority of the cases, about 38 per cent, they had to use tools or force to get in. In other instances, they were able to remove the receptacle, so one would assume that they had not been secured to floors and walls, they were able to find the key or they were able to break the combination. In four per cent of cases, they were actually unlocked at the time of the theft. So there were a variety of reasons and means that the offenders were able to use to access the firearms within those supposedly secure receptacles. We also do not know how much time those offenders had when they were within the private residences, business premises, garages or sheds. If they had a bit of nous and a bit of time, they probably were able to penetrate those. But there has been a lot of discussion. I understand from the transcripts from your hearings in Sydney and Melbourne that there are concerns about some of the safes that might be being used by some firearm owners. The Bunnings safe, I think, was what was cited. But probably—and I think Victoria at least has gone to look at their storage provisions to see whether they need to be improved.

CHAIR: We have also had a number of submissions from gun owners and gun clubs saying that they are all law-abiding citizens and do everything to keep their guns safe. I note your submission says about a quarter of all gun owners were determined by police not to be storage compliant. Can you give me more information about that figure and how you determine such a thing?

Dr Bricknell : Storage compliance was determined by the data providers. We had a data variable for them to indicate whether the police at the time determined whether they were storage compliant. That again was a range of things. They could have stored their firearm in a cupboard. There were a lot of instances of storing their firearms in cupboards, and what have you—ostensibly locked but in cupboards. Again, they were considered non-storage compliant if the key was within easy access and if the key could be easily found. In some instances—very rare instances—the firearms were left under the beds, in wall cavities and those sorts of things. So that is when there was non-storage compliance. We did find a real issue with vehicles, in particular. I think there might be some confusion, or what have you, about how firearms should be secured when they are being transported in vehicles. We found particularly poor storage compliance when firearms are being transported in vehicles.

Senator McKENZIE: Those differ per jurisdiction, though, do they not?

Dr Bricknell : It does differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

CHAIR: I will now go to Senator McKenzie for questions.

Dr Brown : I want to clarify on that point as well. When we are talking about noncompliance, we are talking about those that have reported a firearm stolen. We are not talking about all owners of firearms. It is purely that group.

CHAIR: Thank you. That is an important clarification to make.

Senator McKENZIE: When we are talking about theft, the evidence we had from Victoria Police was that, of over 48,000 pistols in Victoria, six were stolen. So when we start talking about 0.006 per cent, I think, of the registered handguns in Victoria actually stolen, I think it is useful that, when we talk about this and when we talk about case studies, we actually get some magnitude of the issue. I want to seek some clarification on this:

The data on the source or method of diversion for restricted and non-restricted handguns was affected by a high unknown response rate (70% and 68% respectively).

Dr Bricknell : That is right, yes.

Senator McKENZIE: I do appreciate that you, later on, said:

Some degree of caution is hence required when interpreting this data.

If you could just go to the detail and flesh out that a bit more for us.

Dr Bricknell : All we can really say is that, from the data that we received from the Crime Commission, it was recorded as 'unknown' where the source of those particular handguns were. That is why it was categorised to 'unknown'. It would be for the Crime Commission to answer why it was categorised as 'unknown'. But, I believe, from the Crime Commission there are issues with serial numbers, recording of serial numbers and being able to trace those handguns in such a way to be able to understand where they came from. It is a very high unknown response rate. The reason we included the data in the report is that there is a focus on handguns, and we thought it was important to, at least, present that data on where handguns were coming from.

Senator McKENZIE: Sorry, when you say a focus on handguns?

Dr Bricknell : I think there has always been a focus on handguns—has there not?—in terms of the illicit firearms market, in particular. That is why we included that data.

Dr Brown : To pick up on the figure quoted regarding six stolen out of 48,000 weapons, in terms of percentages, that works out at 0.01 per cent, I think—

Senator McKENZIE: By any stretch, it is hardly significant in any risk analysis.

Dr Brown : Actually, it is. And the reason is: a figure on its own is kind of meaningless—it seems very low—but it is only when put into the context of other kinds of crime we can really get a handle on whether that is high or low.

Senator McKENZIE: No, no—I hear you. So six handguns stolen from registered users, and we have a whole Senate inquiry focusing on theft from registered gun owners as being the primary source of the illicit gun violence occurring in this country. That is the premise for the inquiry that is being conducted at the moment. I have heard a lot of evidence around—

ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Jacinta Collins ): Senator McKenzie, we are being fairly generous about the terms of reference. So, perhaps, if we could just focus on questions rather than commentary.

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, of course, Acting Chair. Thank you so much for bringing me back to the question. We have heard a lot of evidence about porous borders playing a significant role. I was in another inquiry with the Customs department earlier this week on another matter talking about the rise of parcels through Australia Post and their capacity to screen, et cetera. Do you have any comment to make on how you collect data on that? Who do you talk to to get data around that? Do you talk to Australia Post, Customs, et cetera?

Dr Brown : We, at the Australian Institute of Criminology, are not collecting any data on that issue. We have not conducted any specific research on that as an issue, so we really cannot comment on those figures.

Senator McKENZIE: In terms of illicit guns in our community, your research has not focused on guns coming from overseas in parts in parcels?

Dr Brown : That is not an area of research that we have focused on.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Can you run through your sources of data? You are just a research agency, are you not? You have to get your data from somewhere; you do not collect it yourself. You would rely on other sources, is that right?

Dr Brown : In this particular instance, for firearms related work?

Senator LEYONHJELM: For firearms used in crimes, yes?

Dr Bricknell : Our source is state and territory police. So we have used state and territory police for firearm theft, for our homicide data—although we do use the National Coronial Information Service to confirm some of the data variables for that—and also for our armed robbery monitoring program.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Customs at all, seizures?

Dr Bricknell : No.

Senator LEYONHJELM: No Customs and no Post?

Dr Bricknell : I want to add that we did a one-off project on trafficking; it was a funded project, which we did in collaboration with the Crime Commission and the Australian Federal Police. It was only ever to be a one-off project, and obviously now the Crime Commission are doing their NIFA. We may do work with them in the future, but that trafficking work was just the one-off project and that is why we only have those data sets to work with.

Dr Brown : To clarify that, we have a separation between the monitoring programs, where we are able to collect data on a regular basis, and the one-off studies to focus on particular issues.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Another witness has drawn attention to difficulties that you have had with data. In its submission it noted that, in 2011, Dr Bricknell said:

Some preliminary analysis of data of seized firearms, we are finding at least with handguns that at least a third, possibly up to a half, of handguns have been sourced via theft … So theft does seem to be possibly a fairly important conduit, at least at the present time, for handguns.

The submission said that in the same year the AIC director wrote:

Handgun theft has made up less than 10 percent of all reported firearms in any given year and restricted Category C and D firearms (such as pump action shotguns and semi-automatic rifles) have rarely featured in firearm theft reports. Very few stolen firearms are known to have been used to commit a subsequent criminal event (or found in the possession of persons charged with other serious offences e.g. supply of a prohibited drug …

The submission then quotes Dr Bricknell again:

Many, if not the majority of, firearms in both the grey and illicit markets were most likely legally imported into Australia prior to the firearm and related reforms.

This is not a capture attempt; I am trying to understand the difficulties that you are having in getting a clear picture of what is going on because we are probably having a much harder time than you.

Dr Bricknell : Firstly, the grey market is only longarms, so we cannot talk about handguns in that respect. Definitely a lot of them would have been imported legally into Australia before the firearm reforms and then entered the grey market with the reforms that came in either because the owner chose not to register the firearm or because they were not aware of the reforms.

I think there is a sort of conflation between some of the figures and a misunderstanding of how they work together. Again, based on the firearm trace database, it indicated that the theft was an important conduit to the illicit firearm market. That somewhat straddles the firearm theft monitoring program data that we have which showed that handguns contributed about seven per cent of all stolen firearms that were reported each year. I would like to add that there has been a lot of focus on, 'It's only seven per cent of firearms that are reported stolen are handguns.' It is proportionate with the number of registered handguns in the country, as we have found with rifles and shotguns as well. Just because we are finding that only a small proportion of handguns are being reported stolen I do not think there is necessarily a problem to show that it is an important conduit through to the illicit market. I do not think those figures are necessarily at odds with each other.

Dr Brown : Just to pick up on that, the first part of the quote you gave was from the seizures data, from the trace database, so that is at the end of the process, with a firearm having been seized. The latter quote you gave, from the director, was data from the firearms theft monitoring, so that is at the start of the process. So they are using two different data sources, from different ends of the spectrum, if you like. I guess it is problematic when you put them together, because it does show those conflicts.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I understand. A lot more than pistols get stolen, but it is primarily stolen handguns that get seized or surrendered in the course of investigating crime by law enforcement, and that is the data that ends up in the Australian Crime Commission Figures—the trace data—isn't it?

Dr Bricknell : That is right.

Senator LEYONHJELM: So there is a bias towards handguns, pistols, because they are the preferred weapon for organised crime?

Dr Brown : Yes.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I will ask a similar question to one I posed to the Crime Commission people. They highlighted the fact that there were a lot of pistols that had been imported as deactivated pistols and then reactivated, for a period of time. In fact, there were thousands of them. There was another source too. I cannot remember. Anyway, there were thousands of them. We have also heard from several witnesses how those pistols are recirculated between crime groups and individuals and so forth and also how they do not deteriorate over time, as a generalisation. Given that there are many thousands of illegal pistols available, and the Australian Crime Commission figures are based on seizures, is this definition of theft theft from individuals, or is it theft from firearm dealers, or is it firearm dealers reporting thefts that were not really theft? How confident about what kind of theft it is can you be?

Dr Bricknell : From our firearm theft monitoring program data, the majority of thefts that are reported were from private owners.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Is this from trace data?

Dr Bricknell : No. This is from state and territory police data.

Senator McKENZIE: Are you confident in the rigorousness of that data?

Dr Bricknell : I am confident with the data. We have received excellent data, particularly from a number of jurisdictions. I would like to highlight Queensland in particular. Their data is excellent and has always been excellent in terms of the firearm theft monitoring program. It is very thorough. I must say the database that was developed for this monitoring program is extremely thorough. The data, for the most part, that we collected over that period of time has been complete and has allowed the analysis that we have done. But, as said, the majority of reported incidents that are included in the monitoring program are from private owners. Dealer stock, I think, represented less than 10 per cent. Then we have had the occasional theft from security organisations, and I think one or two from police. But for the most part it is from private owners.

Senator LEYONHJELM: There is a sort of credibility gap in the data, if you like. The majority of firearms stolen are not pistols. Pistols are the preferred weapon of organised crime. Also, the ones preferred by organised crime are centre-fires, not rim-fires and not air pistols. So there are a lot of firearms being stolen—'a lot' in a colloquial sense rather than a statistical sense—that are never ending up being used in crime. Only certain kinds do. What you are seeing is two ends of something. You are seeing the police statistics showing what has been stolen and you are seeing what is turning up in the hands of law enforcement through crime investigations. They do not match, though. What is happening in the middle?

Dr Brown : I guess you would not expect them to match, necessarily, because there is so much going on in the middle. That middle part is pretty much an unknown black box. We do not know, apart from those that are subsequently recovered from those arrested for criminal acts, what happens to those firearms. We really do not know how many of those that are stolen subsequently get used for the purposes of organised crime. We have no way of estimating that.

Dr Bricknell : We did do some analysis about recovery. The recovery number is used incorrectly. I think everyone has used it incorrectly. It is not 12 per cent to 14 per cent that are recovered; it is firearms from 12 per cent to 14 per cent of incidents. I thought I needed to clarify that. We do find that recovery is more likely to occur when firearms were stolen as part of a general burglary—that is, when other goods were stolen. It is less likely to occur when it appears to have been a targeted theft.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I imagine also—I do not know if you have any figures on this—that a targeted theft would be far more likely to involve centre-fire pistols, would it?

Dr Bricknell : I do not have the data to hand, but it may well be.

Senator LEYONHJELM: You would expect so if they were targeted for criminal purposes.

Senator McKENZIE: I need some clarification. I am blown away by the discussion of the number of handguns that are stolen—when 300 Glocks rock up in the post. Who knows how often that is happening? When you look at the proportionality of that, we have 300 Glocks potentially coming in one day a week at various post offices right around Australia. This research focuses on theft and I appreciate what you are saying and how you have interpreted the data, but there is still no comparison in the impact on the main question—which is gun related violence in the community. I appreciate that you have had to research a particular question. I understand that. But I assume you can understand what we are trying to work out. It might not even be sensible to be discussing both issues using that same data set. If so, please let us know, because I think people are misconstruing the data set and maybe applying it incorrectly. In an emotive argument, that does not help anyone. As I understand it, there was a national firearms monitoring program and your research is part of that whole picture. Is that right?

Dr Bricknell : There was the National Firearm Theft Monitoring Program—and that was the AIC. We managed that research.

Senator McKENZIE: You only did the theft program part of it?

Dr Bricknell : There was the National Firearms Monitoring Program that was in existence for about 10 years. That was the AIC's monitoring program. That was for 10 years following the reforms. What came off the back of that was the National Firearm Theft Monitoring Program. That was a recommendation from the APMC.

Senator McKENZIE: My question is about inferring from data that is about theft. You have only researched theft. To use that to then make claims about gun related violence in the community when, as you have already stated, it did not cover illicit firearms pouring into our communities via Australia Post and other means—does that not mean that we are applying it where it should not be applied?

Dr Brown : I do not think we are making those claims. I think we have—

Senator McKENZIE: No, I do not think you are. I think you are being used to make those claims.

Dr Brown : Okay. I guess there is very little that we can do about that. All we can do is to present the data—

Senator McKENZIE: But I am asking, Dr Brown, do you believe that the research you have undertaken on theft is being applied to make claims which your data was never meant to make claims about?

Dr Brown : I think there is an element of that, but as has been stated throughout this inquiry, you are working in a sparse, data poor area.

Senator McKENZIE: Exactly.

Dr Brown : Obviously, people jump to use the data that are available. Our data, as we have presented it, are for a very specific purpose, and hopefully what we are trying to do is to clarify the uses of those data and the limitations on those data. But we fully recognise there are plenty of areas associated with the way in which firearms being used in the community that we simply do not have the research or the evidence to support. Ours is purely about the firearms theft at one end and the seizures and the trace database at the other.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you so much, Dr Brown, because that clarifies it.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, just one query here, and I am not sure that it does clarify it. As I heard your question, it was in part expressing your view that you think that the witnesses are being used to make certain claims.

Senator McKENZIE: I think the research that they have generated on the question they were asked to research—they have collated the data appropriately and reported that. But that is then being applied to a whole other question that they were not asked to research.

ACTING CHAIR: Okay, I just want to check that the witnesses are happy that they have responded to that reflection.

Dr Brown : I think that is fair enough. We have no control over how our data is presented. All we can do is present it and clarify where possible.

ACTING CHAIR: I just wanted to clarify on your behalf, as Acting Chair, that the issue is not so much that you are being used, but that the outcomes of your research are perhaps being used in ways they may not have been intended for.

Dr Brown : That is always an issue in criminological research.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much. Have you any further questions, Senator McKenzie?

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you for that clarification. I will chase up with Customs.

ACTING CHAIR: I think there are no further questions. Thank you very much.

SMITH, Ms Catherine, Assistant Secretary, Crim e Prevention and Federal Offenders Branch , Attorney-General's Department

WARNES, Mr Andrew, Director, Firearms Section, Attorney-General's Department


ACTING CHAIR: I welcome representatives from the Attorney-General's Department. Thank you for coming before us today. The committee has received a submission from you—submission No. 42. The Senate has resolved that an officer of a department or the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy. It does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. Officers of the department are also reminded that any claim that it would be contrary to the public interest to answer a question must be made by a minister and should be accompanied by at statement setting out the basis for such claim. Before I invite you to make any opening statement, do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to your submission?

Ms Smith : No, Senator.

ACTING CHAIR: Would you like to make an opening statement to the submission?

Ms Smith : I would be pleased to. Thank you for the opportunity to appear today. I thought it was important that we made a few comments before we gave our evidence. In Australia responsibility for firearms matters is shared between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, with the Commonwealth government responsible for matters relating to the import and export of firearms, while the state and territory governments have responsibility for matters relating to the manufacture, possession, licensing, storage and use of firearms. The Attorney-General's Department is responsible for the Commonwealth's overarching policy on firearms and firearm related matters, as well as having a particular role in the administration of granting import permission for certain types of firearms and firearm related articles.

The department believes that the current approach to firearms policy strikes an appropriate balance between the interests of those with a genuine need to have access to firearms, such as sporting shooters and primary producers, as well as the interests of the broader community to live safely and securely. Specifically, the department does not believe that the tests set out in the National Firearms Agreement for the possession or use of firearms need to be amended. Further, putting additional restrictions on legal ownership of firearms would necessarily reduce firearms related crime. The Attorney-General's Department considers that firearms related crime can be best addressed by an effective regulation of a legal firearms market and a robust law enforcement response to the illicit firearms market and firearms related crime.

Prior to 1996 the rules pertaining to firearms varied considerably across jurisdictions, and these inconsistencies extended to many areas of regulation—for example, the types of firearms able to be possessed, whether safety training was a prerequisite before someone could have a firearm, and the need or not for firearms to be registered. At this time, one of the most significant consequences of the lack of a uniform approach to gun control was the opportunity for firearms to be diverted to an illicit market. Subsequent to 1996, there have been three major agreements which have made a move to encourage a substantially consistent approach to regulation of firearms in Australia. You will be aware that these are the National Firearms Agreement 1996, the National Firearms Trafficking Policy Agreement 2002 and the national handgun control agreement 2002. Of these, the NFA is the most significant in establishing national consistency in Australia.

Some of the key elements of the NFA include requiring people to have both a genuine reason and a genuine need for owning, possessing and using a firearm; banning the sale, resale, transfer, ownership, possession, manufacture and use of certain categories of firearms, except in exceptional circumstances; and requiring the nationwide registration of all firearms. Data from various sources, which we have heard a lot about today, including the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Institute of Criminology, support the view that firearm reforms have helped to reduce the misuse of firearms. For example, according to the ABS, firearms related homicide is down from 31.7 per cent in 1996 to 18.9 per cent in 2013. Additionally and thankfully, Australia has not had a mass shooting since the 2002 Monash University shooting or a massacre involving semiautomatic firearms since the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.

While the firearm reforms in the mid-nineties and early 2000s have been shown to be effective in reducing the instances of firearm misuse, the government continues to seek ways to reduce the ongoing rate of misuse. For example, I understand that CrimTrac may have earlier given evidence on establishing the National Firearms Interface, and it is something the department is very keenly interested in. The National Firearms Interface will allow a single shared record for each firearm that will detail every event in a firearm's existence in Australia, providing the ability to trace the firearm from foundry to furnace. The NFI will streamline regulatory processes, increase opportunities to identify the movement of firearms to the illicit market and help improve the ability for police to solve firearm related crimes.

I would also like to briefly comment on some media reporting about the department's submission and that is to clarify a point that we made in our submission to the committee. Aspects of our submission were taken out of context, thereby suggesting our role in firearms regulation is ineffective. I believe it is anything but. In relation to one type of import permit issued, the dealer permit, our submission noted that we add little value, as the only requirement we have is to check with state or territory jurisdictions whether that dealer is licensed.

However, in all other import tests, which my branch looks after and spends a lot of time and energy on, we assume the leading role and we ensure that all checks and assurances are done in accordance with state and territory legislation requirements and that the relevant requirements are in place before permission is granted. We also assess evidence by applicants to ensure that there is a genuine need for the firearm that they wish to import and that they meet the requirements of the relevant test. In doing so, we maintain a robust administration of the regulatory requirements in importing firearms into Australia. We would very much welcome any questions.

CHAIR: Good afternoon. I do apologise. I was not here and am now chairing again. Although I missed some of your opening statement, I can always see that on the transcript which I will do. Thank you very much, Ms Smith and Mr Warnes.

I believe that we just need to suspend the committee very briefly to transact some very quick business. We will just step outside to do that and we will come back. It will take about a minute.

Proceedings suspended from 14:00 to 14 : 01

CHAIR: We will reconvene and go to questions.

Senator LEYONHJELM: In your opening statement and submission, you referred to inconsistencies between the states and territories and expressed the view that they were undesirable, and that the National Firearms Agreement, which led to consistency between the states, was beneficial. What information do you have that supports that?

Ms Smith : I will ask Mr Warnes to talk about the consistencies.

Mr Warnes : The department believes that, broadly, the National Firearms Agreement has brought significant consistency—particularly in the key areas, such as possession, use, storage and what weapons are and are not prohibited. So, in that sense, we really do have a consistent agreement. The inconsistencies that we refer to tend to be around the edges; they tend to be around quite minor issues, such as whether a state or territory prints a licensee's address on the licence. That is a requirement of the NFA, but a lot of states do not do that.

You might understand why some states do not do that, because if that licence is then lost that would indicate where someone might have a firearm. Some states and territories have moved away from doing that. So there are minor inconsistencies around the edges. But as we said in our opening statement, we really believe that, broadly, the NFA sets up a good, robust framework for consistent legislation and regulation around firearms.

Senator LEYONHJELM: This is a good, robust framework and you are also arguing that consistency between the states is desirable. Why? Have you heard of the concept of competitive federalism?

Mr Warnes : Yes.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Why should not competitive federalism similarly apply? This is not legislated policy. You are not applying legislation when you say 'consistency between the states is good'. So where does it come from?

Mr Warnes : Where does the idea of consistency being good come from?

Senator LEYONHJELM: Where did the idea that the department thinks consistency between the states is good arise?

Ms Smith : There is the empirical evidence we have had since 1996 and 2000. Some people have suggested that some of it is flawed et cetera. We meet with the states and territories regularly to talk about the regulation of firearms and also we have this overarching role where we deal with all of the imports on particular types of firearms or related equipment. So we are dealing with all the states, and consistency in most of their approaches in the areas that we deal with makes the Commonwealth's view—in actually looking after the regulation on imports—clear to the users. We deal with some of the big dealers, and they say to us that they like to know that they only have one type of application to make. They have said that they prefer consistency. I suppose the inconsistencies we have seen have been at the minor end, not at the higher end with licensing. Our visibility is very much around the imports, and the consistency of the states when we deal with them certainly makes it a much more efficient process. We do take some time, and there is criticism of how long we often take to give our licences for imports. But the consistency of the states' approaches in dealing with us and the way that they deal with particular licensing means there is a consistent approach for anyone who comes to them, because people are not necessarily state bound.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Nobody is disputing the fact that the Commonwealth has responsibility for imported firearms, and a consistent approach to that would be expected. What I am interested in, though, was the implication in your opening statement that state firearm laws are better if they are all consistent. Where do you get that from? What do you base that on? Is it just an opinion?

Ms Smith : It is opinion.

Mr Warnes : Senator, the police ministers came together and decided that themselves in 2002, with their consolidated resolutions. They felt that having a consistent approach was the way that they wanted to go, and that is why these agreements were put in place. It was ministers from each jurisdiction; it was not a Commonwealth imposed agreement. Ministers from all jurisdictions gathered around and set out the baseline for how they would regulate these things in their respective jurisdictions.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I think you might be too young to be able to say it is not Commonwealth imposed!

Mr Warnes : Perhaps.

Senator LEYONHJELM: But I have information to contradict that. Nonetheless, I am interested in the fact that you have made this simple assertion—and I have done enough estimates to know that this is unusual. Most people in your position would say, 'Well, we administer the law and the government makes the policy.' What you are doing is declaring that the Attorney-General's Department has a policy that consistency between the states is good. I am going to get onto some of the other things you said in a moment, but you said, 'Consistency between the states is good.' For things like storage requirements, why is it good to have the same storage obligations in all states? In relation to competitive federalism, why couldn't some states have a particular approach to storage and other states have a different approach to storage to see which one is more effective? Why is it the Attorney-General's Department's policy that that is a bad thing?

Ms Smith : I think, from our perspective, it is more about the way we look at this. We are not looking at the level of how the policy of the states is necessarily implemented. We are looking at transnational crime, we are looking at dealing with the states and territories on an equal footing, we are looking at the ministers attending meetings together; and the advice that we have and that we are given generally from those ministerial meeting and such and also from looking at crime, is that, the more consistency there is, the more law enforcement can deal with issues on a consistent basis. That is where we are coming from. We do not actually have any particular value-adds, I guess, on particular states' approaches to it. What we are saying is that, on the issues that the Commonwealth has responsibility for dealing with on a national basis, consistency does often work in favour of the administration of laws.

Senator LEYONHJELM: This committee has heard no evidence that would support that. I would ask you to think about and comment on this. There have been suggestions from some witnesses that storage is adequate, from some that it is inadequate and from others that it is over the top. How would we ever know if we have a consistent approach? That has to be agreed by each of the states. They all have to say, 'Yes, all right; we'll all do it.' Why couldn't you have some states that take a more rigorous approach while some states take a more relaxed approach, and see which ones have the greatest impact on firearm theft and their link to crime?

Ms Smith : There would be no reason not to have that, and then I would suggest that, if there is a better approach in one state, the other states may learn from that and pick it up.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Indeed. That is why I was curious as to why you were so emphatic that consistency is good. I will leave it there on that one. I also ask: on what basis do you make the assertion that the decline in firearms deaths since 1996 is a result of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement or its implementation? What do you base that on? It is a highly contested point.

Ms Smith : Indeed it is. The basis is that it was a major change in government policy to introduce that and then, based on the evidence that we have seen, there was a decline. There has not been other evidence put to us suggesting that there were other reasons. We have heard a lot over today, most certainly, as to other reasons for why that could be the case, but it is purely based on the evidence that we have had in front of us.

Senator LEYONHJELM: In that case, you are really not up to speed on the evidence, because there is quite a lot of evidence to the contrary. The other statement you made that I am interested in is your link between the fact there have been no mass shootings since 1996 and the National Firearms Agreement and its implementation. Do you link the two?

Ms Smith : I am saying that, by the tighter regulation since 1996, I would assume that the evidence that I have is that it most definitely is a contributing factor to the reduction.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Have you looked at this situation on an international basis?

Ms Smith : We are always looking at international situations and we are educated by that. We have noticed that there have been recent reforms in Canada and New Zealand whereby they are changing some of their regimes for registration. So we think it is probably a bit early to understand what the implications of those will be but we will certainly be watching those and we are approaching the relevance justice departments to see whether there is any new evidence to suggest that these changes—

Senator LEYONHJELM: In fact, there has been no change in New Zealand—in fact, they did not change when we did. Canada has; you are right there. They have abandoned long-arms registration. There has been no change in New Zealand. When Australia went down the path of registration of individual firearms, New Zealand was invited to go along with it and declined, and there have been no mass shootings there. So I am curious that you are espousing policies which are contrary to competitive federalism. These are highly contested areas. I am curious as to whether there is a culture of gun control in the Attorney-General's Department?

Ms Smith : We administer the Customs regulations regarding the import of firearms. That is what we do.

Senator LEYONHJELM: That is what I understood your role to be.

Ms Smith : Correct. That is what we do.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you so much for your evidence. Has the AG's done any costings of the Greens' policy to pave the way for a safer Australia? There has been evidence that it is a $361 million policy, including the banning of semiautomatic handguns. Has the department done any—

Ms Smith : I am not aware of whether the department has done that.

Senator McKENZIE: Could you take that on notice.

Ms Smith : I can take that on notice, certainly.

Senator McKENZIE: Going to the NFA and consultation, the Commonwealth government no longer have a firearms advisory council at a Commonwealth level. I just wanted to ascertain: in the conversations that you are having nationally with other jurisdictions through the police ministers, how confident are you that they are consulting with industry and representative bodies to ensure that, in any conversation around the agreement, it is not just police agencies' voices? If you could also comment on how, at a Commonwealth level, AG's is actually engaging with industry and representative hunters and shooters to have conversations around this issue.

Ms Smith : Certainly. Firstly, I would say that I obviously cannot comment on the extent to which states—

Senator McKENZIE: There is no mechanism that requires them to do that before they come to council?

Ms Smith : I do not know what their current practices are in relation to that. I know, in relation to briefing our ministers, we ensure that they are well briefed and that they understand how our consultations go and those sorts of things. We certainly do have a firearms and weapons policy working group, which is made up of states and territories representatives.

Senator McKENZIE: Who are they? Are they police commissioners?

Ms Smith : No, they are not at that level. They are at the working level. You have all state and territory police forces represented and justice agencies in each of the states and territories, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Institute of Criminology and CrimTrac. I do understand—

Senator McKENZIE: You know where I am going with this.

Ms Smith : I am aware that they are very useful meetings, because some of the people are from gun registries and some of the people from the policy departments. They normally get together for a couple of days a year and actually talk about some of the challenges and areas where there could be improvement, whether there is a need for any policy shift and whether there is need for a legislative amendments and those sorts of things. That is certainly our fora that we chair. The Attorney-General's Department chairs that. I see that as being, as far as the state and territories are concerned, my forefront of ability to find out what is actually happening and learning about these inconsistencies that have been talked about and such things today.

Mr Warnes : I might also just add that the firearms and weapons policy working group allows us to tap into the mechanisms in the states to consult with industry, but our role is little bit more limited in what we do in relation to import permits. Myself and my teams are talking to the dealers and importers daily in relation to the permits and policies around that.

Senator McKENZIE: I am sure you are. There is a question in this.

Mr Warnes : That is obviously the mechanism. Then if we were considering any changes to that, we would consulted extensively with industry, because it obviously has a direct impact on them. We have done that in the past in relation to previous changes in regulations.

Senator McKENZIE: I am going to formal mechanisms and then I will come to informal mechanisms. On that policy working group, why don't we have a national dealers' group and why don't we have a peak users group, if you like? If I go to other policy working groups or national discussions—in health, we would have ACOSS on that. We would have some sort of outside-in group to flesh out that policy idea and test it a bit within a formal structure, in particular if we got rid of the advisory council. How do you assure yourself, as chair, that that discussion fits with the reality check that is community and industry outside of that?

Ms Smith : In developing policy within government, there are fora that will be like this and that will not go outside of the tent—that is one way of putting it. That is because the reality is that we are trying to actually understand better what is happening in the states and territories, look at the national consistency and brief our ministers. That is because this sort of group then feeds up to what used to be SCPEM, which is now called LCCSC. I think. I would have to work out the acronym is.

Senator McKENZIE: Please let us know once you have worked that out.

CHAIR: What was the old acronym?

Ms Smith : SCPEM. Now it is LCCSC.

Mr Warnes : The Law, Crime and Community Safety Council.

Ms Smith : The purpose of this group is to feed up to that ministerial group. It has an actual function and purpose. We are maybe tasked by that group to actually do things and such like. As far as a broader community is concerned, I am aware that we certainly will meet with Commonwealth agencies. We will meet, as Mr Warnes has said, with major representatives from industry.

Senator McKENZIE: The national dealers' association, for instance.

Ms Smith : Correct.

Senator McKENZIE: The SSAA or Shooting Australia.

Ms Smith : We find that a lot of the dealers actually want to—and I think I found this in any policy that I have done—deal with us on a unilateral basis. They will come to us as groups sometimes, as they do; but often they will actually just come to us about a particular issue, commercial-in-confidence issues and things like that. There is constant engagement and that sort of thing.

Because it is such a technical area, it would be impossible for us to develop any policy in a vacuum. You might suggest it is a vacuum when we deal with our states and territory counterparts, but that is not the case because we have to fully understand what they are doing and we also have to take to them some of the issues that have been raised by various groups and such. We certainly do not have a replacement for that other group you were talking about. It was a matter for government to dissolve that, along with many other committees that are not related to this area. I suppose as a policy maker, I feel confident that we have really good access to these sorts of groups and they are very open to talk with us. It is something we talk about all the time—the need to do more outreach in this space—

Senator McKENZIE: I think it was Vic Pol who admitted that any gun on the street, legal or otherwise, is an OH&S issue for their members.

Ms Smith : Of course.

Senator McKENZIE: They are also in charge of doing the licensing and doing the regulating, so we almost have a group of people or an organisation that has a conflict of interest in this conversation. Then when we feed that into a national level and we have a whole room of people with a conflict of interest making the decisions. I would really like a more fleshed-out answer of how we are going to engage formally with a community that can balance that perceived conflict. I will just leave that with you.

CHAIR: While you are taking that on notice to think about, I would also ask that you consider how you ensure in that situation that the other stakeholders in the game, who are the broader public who have an interest in this, have their considerations and rights taken into account. Clearly it is a public issue, and some people say it is a public health issue.

Ms Smith : Most definitely, and I should say that it is that balance that we are always doing. We have two very diverse needs here: one is to satisfy the needs of lawful shooters and interested parties and the other is that another part of my branch is looking after making the community safe.

CHAIR: Correct.

Ms Smith : We have a broad range of stakeholders that we do engage—

Senator McKENZIE: They are not mutually exclusive.

Ms Smith : They are not indeed. I would very much like to take that on notice and give you a much—

Senator McKENZIE: I would really appreciate that.

Senator McKENZIE: I want to briefly go to Customs and the government's deregulation agenda. I think Victoria has done some work about the contribution that industry makes to the economic underpinnings of our state. I think it is in excess of $139 million and 1,500 jobs, most of them in regional Australia. In terms of decreasing the cost of doing business, and particularly when we talk about importation of firearms, what are we really doing? There seem to be time delays and an inordinate amount of rigmarole to actually process what is essentially a legal product if it goes where it is supposed to go and to whom it is supposed to go to.

Ms Smith : I will say a couple of words and Andrew might like to join in in a moment. With the regulation, there are some applications that are always very close to clear—that is, we know this organisation and we know what they are dealing with. When we get other applications from someone who says, 'I work part-time as a pest controller in a remote area in Australia', we do have to ask for quite a lot of evidence there. There is a hierarchy of applications and some take quite a lot of time. We do not, of course, charge for our applications at all, so it is a cost to government to actually process those. But I think the government is confident that the value add that we do to the importations is worth it. I would say that it certainly is a cost, and I am sure it is something that government is always looking at as part of their deregulation—

Senator McKENZIE: To streamline some of those—

Ms Smith : Yes, the processes. We have certainly moved to an electronic system, but it is interesting because—

Senator McKENZIE: Is that decreasing your cost of doing business? What about decreasing to dealers?

Ms Smith : It should be decreasing for individuals and dealers because they should be able to just load this stuff up without having to be photocopying and faxing. It should be much less labour-intensive in moving across.

Senator McKENZIE: That is fabulous news.

Ms Smith : That is right.

Senator McKENZIE: Well done.

Ms Smith : We are looking at opportunities to reduce everyone's workload in this space.

Senator McKENZIE: You mentioned provisions around trafficking of firearms and firearm parts, which goes to our Glock set. Can you just flesh it out for the committee? The piece of legislation I think has been passed through the House of Representatives.

Ms Smith : The one before parliament at the moment?

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, and can you just give us the status of that? And did Adam Bandt vote for it?

Mr Warnes : I am happy to take that one. As you are probably aware, on 17 July the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Psychoactive Substances and Other Measures) Bill—

Senator McKENZIE: We might not be, Mr Warnes, because we are senators.

Mr Warnes : Okay—you may not be aware! And I can tell you it was introduced into the House of Representatives. The provisions of the bill create a more comprehensive set of offences and penalties in the code to address the trafficking of firearms and firearms parts. It proposes to create a range of new offences—to create international firearms offences of trafficking prohibited firearms and firearm parts into and out of Australia.

Senator McKENZIE: In response to what, Mr Warnes?

Mr Warnes : Currently, criminals can potentially evade trafficking offences and penalties by breaking firearms down and trafficking their constituent parts. So we sought to broaden out the coverage—

Senator McKENZIE: So it was not even an offence to mail your—

Mr Warnes : This is how they were evading there. So this is why we brought this in to cover the field.

Senator McKENZIE: And have we noticed a greater volume, if you like, of this sort of parcel arriving on our shores? I mean, what triggered this?

Ms Smith : That question might be better put to one of the enforcement agencies, or maybe Customs, after—

Senator McKENZIE: We are having a hell of a lot of problems with data from the enforcement agencies.

Ms Smith : In relation to this, the case was put to us that there was a need. Of course, it is still before parliament. But that case is often put to us by law enforcement and suchlike.

Senator McKENZIE: I think we have AFP this afternoon, so we will go there.

Ms Smith : Yes, I think they would be the appropriate people to ask.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you so much. Well done.

CHAIR: Perhaps I can answer the question that Senator McKenzie asked about whether Adam Bandt supported that legislation in the House—and I know that he certainly did—because I would hate any suggestion to be made surreptitiously that the Australian Greens are not interested in monitoring and dealing with the trafficking of guns. Of course we would not be and we are not. So I just want to put that on the record there.

Senator McKENZIE: So only one of our non-contro bills in the Senate?

CHAIR: Yes, it may well be, but it is actually an omnibus bill, I think. Is that the psychoactive substances bill?

Senator McKENZIE: It is indeed.

CHAIR: And in fact there are a whole lot of different things that are all tied up in the one bill, which governments sometimes do. But it may be coming through to the Senate, and it will be scrutinised by this legislation aspect of this committee, I think.

Ms Smith : I think it has been to committee.

CHAIR: Has it, already?

Ms Smith : I believe it has. I think there is a report, so it would be due for debate.

CHAIR: Can I come to the consistency issue that Senator Leyonhjelm raised. It is interesting, because quite a lot of the submitters, from my recollection, from Sydney, and some of the submissions from graziers and pastoralists and so on, have asked for more consistency across states and territories in terms of things like requirements for storage. They say that it is quite confusing to have different requirements in different states. I presume—and it makes sense to me—that, as with many issues in our glorious federation, when people move from one state to another they have to learn a whole set of new laws about things, whether it is school or whatever, and, in the case of gun ownership, they are going to have to learn a whole lot of new requirements to make sure that they are law-abiding citizens. So they were suggesting that it would be useful to have clearer but also more consistent regulations about adequacy of storage and so on. I also understand that gun clubs are often quite keen on having consistency, because it makes it more difficult to have competition over Australia as opposed to intrastate or intraterritory. So I suppose there are a whole lot of practical reasons that it might be a really good idea to have some consistency, as there often are in other areas. We heard evidence—and I am going to ask you to comment on these things—earlier today from law enforcement agencies that there is a difficulty, too, in Australia with the gathering of data, which we are all concerned about, in the sense that gun-related crime may be described differently, depending on the state or territory. So it is hard to compare apples with apples if you have apples and oranges. Drive-by shootings—how are they recorded? Crime, with a gun associated with the crime—how is that recorded? I certainly would suggest that it is self-evident that we would like to know how many incidents occur in a particular year Australia-wide, and we cannot necessarily get that easily if everybody is going to define them differently. Do you want to comment on that? Are they some of the things that you think have been taken into account in having a view that it would be useful to have consistency?

Ms Smith : We also hear from the dealers and the applicants in relation to the work we do, because it is nationally consistent, because there is only one way to do it, because it is the Commonwealth's view, in this particular small area, as they often comment to us, that there are complexities about doing it differently in the other states. But it is nothing more than a comment, because we obviously do not have experience in that space.

CHAIR: I understand that. But you did give evidence that the police ministers from the states and territories agreed that it was desirable to have this consistency, too—

Ms Smith : Indeed.

CHAIR: And I thought you might have been privy to some of the thinking around why they might be saying that. I am certainly not asking you to give your opinion about policy, but you were being asked to provide that.

Ms Smith : But it was before the time of both Mr Warnes and me.

CHAIR: I see.

Ms Smith : So we are not actually privy to that. But we are happy to take anything like that on notice to see if we can get you some more information.

CHAIR: Thank you. I would be interested to know what the consequences would be of removing a requirement to have registration of guns or licensing of gun owners in Australia—having collection of data about legal guns, who owns them and how many guns a person might own. I do not mean in terms of potential crime or those sorts of consequences. Practically, what information would we not have in Australia if we did not have those sorts of registries?

Ms Smith : I just asked Mr Warnes whether that interacted at all with our applications. At the periphery it may. I think the reality is that that is a question more appropriately asked of the states and territories, because the area we look after is actually a nationally consistent program. It is about providing licences to importers.

Mr Warnes : We do rely on state and territory information. Obviously the licensing is one of the requirements in every one of our tests, to check that these people are appropriately licensed in the state and territory in which they are seeking to bring the firearm or part of a firearm. It is not clear to me exactly how wide you might be talking about. Whether it is just registration or licensing or both. But obviously if there was not that licensing information we would have difficulty under our current regime issuing those permits.

Ms Smith : We would have to amend our laws.

CHAIR: I am interested in that question, because the submissions are varied. Some of them are at the end of saying that people should be able to own guns in Australia and should not be subject to having to be licensed, or they should not be registered, and that there are issues associated with that. I would be interested to know practically what that would mean in terms of what we know. In your case you can relate that to the licensing of dealers. Is that right?

Mr Warnes : The licensing of not just dealers but any individuals who might be seeking to import what would otherwise be a prohibited weapon, but fall into the exemptions in the Customs regulations that allow them to import guns for vertebrate pest control or for testing and demonstration, or any other of the range of exemptions that are set out in the Customs Act. We will always check that those people are licensed, and licensing is done through the states and territories, so that would obviously have an impact.

Ms Smith : It would undermine the integrity of our system. We would have to look at alternative ways to check that someone is appropriate to import this particular weapon.

CHAIR: Taking you to the issue of 3D printing, which we have discussed during the course of the inquiry, I have heard from some 3D printing companies that they are unsure of what the regulations are around the manufacture of parts for a gun—say, a legally owned gun. For example, a new magazine for an old weapon or an existing weapon that is legally owned. By legally owned I realise you have talked about the terminology used in the terms of reference. I guess it is a gun that has been licensed to the owner. If they want to produce a new magazine, can you clarify the law around that for us?

Ms Smith : I cannot, of course, give you legal advice on it, but our understanding of this area of 3D printing or creating of firearms is that it would be treated no differently to traditionally manufactured firearms, and that importation, manufacture or possession of a 3D printed firearm, without a licence, would be illegal in Australia.

CHAIR: Yes, but it is not the firearm. It is a part of a firearm. Does that get us to the same problem that there was in terms of the importation of parts of firearms?

Ms Smith : Again, we are not qualified to answer this, other than to say that we would assume that would be part of the manufacture of firearms and would therefore fall within—

CHAIR: Can I ask you to take that on notice. I am not necessarily wanting legal advice, but this is a gap in the law that has been identified.

Mr Warnes : I would just note that these are all state and territory offences we are talking about here, which is why we are not the experts in this area. The manufacture and possession all goes to state and territory law. We really only have the law around the importation.

CHAIR: What laws exist regarding the storage of gun ownership data? Again it would be a state and territory issue, I suppose, but we are without having had the benefit of being able to hear from every state and territory Attorney-General's Department. Are you able to make any broad comments about gun ownership data?

Ms Smith : No, we cannot.

CHAIR: Thank you for your time Ms Smith and Mr Warnes.

Ms Smith : It was a pleasure.

Mr Warnes : Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 14 : 36 to 14 : 43