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Wednesday, 25 October 2017
Page: 11929


Dr ALY (Cowan) (12:20): This bill was first introduced in 2016 to see the introduction of mandatory minimum sentencing for those found guilty of trafficking illegal firearms. Parliament has already rejected these specific measures twice: once in February 2015, specifically around minimum sentencing, and again in August 2015, again around minimum mandatory sentencing. But it seems that the justice minister is determined to introduce something that just doesn't work. The government go on about listening to the advice of experts. It seems that they roll out the experts when it suits them.

Let's hear what the experts have to say about mandatory minimums. The Minister for Justice's own department says that they create an incentive for a defendant to fight charges. The Attorney-General's Department's own guide to framing Commonwealth offences states that minimum penalties should be avoided because, firstly, they interfere with judicial discretion to impose a penalty appropriate to the circumstances of a case; secondly, they preclude the use of alternative sanctions such as community service orders; and, thirdly, they may encourage the judiciary to look for technical grounds to avoid restriction on sentencing discretion. The Law Council of Australia refers to a number of unintended consequences of mandatory minimum sentencing, including undermining community confidence in the judiciary and criminal justice system. And state prosecutors have raised the concern that mandatory minimums could lead to unjust results and impose significant burdens on the justice system.

So does the government only take the advice of experts and brag about it when it suits them? We know the justice minister is notorious for being totally out of his depth. He continues to think that he knows better than the experts; better than even his own department. While he continues to pursue this bill to distract from the coalition's bitter division on guns, the government have actually lost control of guns and risk undermining Australia's strict gun control laws, which are the envy of nations around the world. Under this minister's watch, a record number of weapons have flooded the illegal market. There are currently as many as 600,000 illegal firearms in the market, and yet the government are divided on gun control. Just two weeks ago we had Bridget McKenzie on Q&A stating that she would like to see gun laws relaxed. Both Tony Abbott and the Prime Minister were willing to allow the Adler A110 shotgun into Australia in exchange for votes. The government are willing to trade the safety of Australians for votes and ignore the advice of experts to pursue a measure that will not—I repeat: will not—be effective in curbing the importation of dangerous weapons, which has grown exponentially under their watch. Indeed, in WA, the minister's home state and my home state, the number of guns stolen has doubled in a year. Last year, around 3½ thousand guns were stolen from legal gun owners and entered into the illegal market—an increase of around 630 from the previous year.

I want to turn my attention a little bit to the kinds of debates we have around gun control and gun laws here in Australia. We often hear those who are for the relaxation of gun laws and want to water down the gun laws say that guns don't kill people, that people kill people. It certainly is a popular mantra among those who argue that our strict gun laws are unfairly targeting legal gun owners. This is what I would say to people: it's not that guns kill people, certainly, but that people with guns kill people.

I want to talk a little bit about the recent incident in Las Vegas because the Las Vegas shooter—that man who managed to inflict so much harm and so much tragedy in such a short space of time—actually had no background of violence. Like many mass shooters that are terrorists or non-terrorist actors, he led a fairly unextraordinary life. He was unknown to police and law enforcement. These are the kinds of people about whom neighbours say: 'Oh, but he was such a lovely man. I can't believe that he's carried out this atrocious act.' And in fact in Pantucci's research there is a typology of lone-wolf actors, which includes terrorists and mass shooters. The research confirms that there is a group of lone actors who are, for all purposes, law-abiding citizens who tend to get access to guns, either legally or illegally, and carry out acts of mass shooting.

My own research on what I termed the rapid escalation to violence also confirmed that there was a group of terrorist actors—that is what I looked at—who do have these unextraordinary backgrounds and unextraordinary histories. Should these people have the opportunity to accumulate or to access illegal firearms, then, through the rapid escalation of violence, through a will to commit violence, they are likely to use them in atrocious tragedy acts killing innocent people.

One of the key factors that we have in assessing the risk to public safety is looking at how we stop or create opportunities for crime and then how we mitigate those opportunities. In maintaining public safety, it's absolutely vital that we remove opportunities for criminals, terrorists and violent actors to have access to firearms. And we have a very strong gun control regime that does that under legal firearms, but we also need to ensure that we do that with illegal firearms as well to ensure that people who may want to do harm to innocent Australians don't have access to illegal firearms. It's why we need to ensure that those who undermine or circumvent our gun laws by trading in illicit firearms get loud and clear the message that their crimes will attract the maximum possible penalty. Labor has been saying all along that we need to ensure that people who smuggle firearms; who trade in illicit firearms; who make those firearms available to terrorist actors, to criminal actors, even to people who have no extraordinary histories in violence but may want to or may be at the point of committing an act of violence—lone shooters, for example, or what we might also term lone-wolf actors—get the message that their trade in illegal firearms, the way that they are providing an opportunity to people who would do us harm by giving them access to illegal firearms by circumventing Australia's strong gun laws—which are, as I mentioned, the envy of the entire world—will attract the maximum sentence.

It's also why we need to ensure that everything we do in this space, whether it's around organised crime, whether it's around terrorism or whether it's around other forms of violent action, is effective and that the laws that we pass actually in practice have outcomes that are conducive to safety and that meet our obligations to public safety and the standards we set for public safety.

That might seem like I'm saying something as obvious as 'water is wet', but that fact seems to be lost on members of the LNP who want to play politics with this issue, because we've actually been waiting months to pass this bill. The bill, as amended by Labor to include a maximum penalty of life imprisonment—measures that were previously passed by a Labor government in 2012—received bipartisan support in the Senate. In fact, it passed the Senate in February and was introduced into the House the next day. So the government has had all of those months, from February to now, to pass this bill, but it has dillied and dallied on it because of a preoccupation with a measure that we know doesn't work. As I said at the beginning of my speech here today, there are several experts within the judiciary who attest to the fact that minimum mandatory sentencing does not work. Not only does it not work, it has adverse outcomes for and adverse impacts on the judicial system, on people's trust in the judicial system and on the capacity of the judicial system to actually incarcerate people who have committed serious crimes—in this case, in relation to the smuggling of and trade in illicit firearms. The government has had months to pass this bill. It has dillydallied on it because of its preoccupation with mandatory minimum sentencing. Importantly, that measure, of mandatory minimum sentencing, has already been rejected, twice in the past and now once again. It has already been rejected by the parliament, as I mentioned.

This government needs to take heed of all of this. Let's just stop and take stock of all of this. We've got experts who say it doesn't work. We've got a dire situation here, where we have an unprecedented number of illicit firearms out there in the market. We have evidence and research that shows that the profile of mass shooters, of terrorist actors, of violent actors, is that they are likely to go undetected by law enforcement and may have access to illegal firearms. If there is an opportunity to access illegal firearms, there could be a rapid escalation of violence that could, in a short space of time, lead to a violent act of the proportions of Las Vegas, for example. That's the evidence we've got. So we need to take stock of all of that evidence and we need to move on with this bill.

The government needs to get on with this job. Unfortunately, we're dealing with a government that has a track record of stalling and tinkering around the edges, and of weakness from its leader when it comes to dealing with some of the vocal elements on his backbench. So we have a government that is divided on gun control. Why would you be divided on gun control when our gun control policy, what Australia does, is held up time and time again around the world as a model of what to do—as a model of the ideal situation in controlling guns? And I must stop here and pay tribute to John Howard and the Howard government for passing those gun reforms quite swiftly in the face of the very terrible tragedy in Tasmania a couple of decades ago.

Let's do the right thing. Let's listen to the experts when they tell us what works and what doesn't. Let's take on board what they say about minimum mandatory sentencing. And let's understand that, in this particular instance, when we're dealing with illegal firearms trafficking, minimum mandatory sentencing undermines the judicial system but also undermines the capacity of the judicial system to actually give a penalty that fits the crime. Let's listen to the experts when they tell us that. Let's get this done. Let's stop dillydallying on matters of community safety.

I would urge the government to have a look at the numerous articles that are written by academics and to look at the profile of lone actors around violence with guns. Look at the relationship between gun ownership and access to guns, whether they are legal or illegal, and cases of domestic violence. We don't want to turn into the United States. We want to keep our gun laws. The Australian public wants to keep our gun laws the way that they are, but we want to strengthen them. We want to strengthen them by having maximum penalties for the people who smuggle and who trade in illicit firearms. So let's get this done, let's get this through, and let's stop stalling on it.