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Wednesday, 25 October 2017
Page: 11943


Ms HUSAR (Lindsay) (13:20): I think this is the first time where the member of Kennedy and I have agreed on something; he called this minister quite disgraceful. I rise to speak in support of the amendments to the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2017. This legislation is the product of detailed analysis and, I have to say, a great deal of cross-party negotiation over a long period. I candidly say 'cross-party', as the divisions on the other side of this House are very, very clear. I will get to that shortly.

It's important to note that it was a Labor government who first introduced similar legislation in the 43rd Parliament—legislation that was passed in this House but not ratified by the Senate. This legislation is similar because it is good legislation that will deter the illegal trafficking of guns and gun parts in Australia and offers tough penalties on those who seek to profit from this insidious trade. We are proud of our existing gun laws and actions to prevent the ownership and use of certain firearms. Labor is committed to strong legislation that will strengthen criminal penalties for gun related crime. We must do absolutely everything possible and within our power to ensure that our communities are safe. There are an estimated 600,000 weapons in the illicit firearm market, and 10,000 of those are handguns. We need to be vigilant, but above all we need to send a strong message that if individuals or groups seek to profit from illegal firearms trade they will face the full force of the law and our judicial processes.

The overwhelming majority of Australians support strong and effective gun control. As we all know, our laws are amongst the strongest in the world, and the use of firearms for nefarious actions and self-harm is amongst the lowest in the world. Recent events in the USA have borne out the effectiveness of our stance. However, while we need vigilance, we also need to send a message that our judiciary can do their job. They need tough laws that match the seriousness of the crimes. What they don't need is for their discretion to be taken from them because of differences among those sitting on the other side who are politicking and seeking to play football with this important measure. They are a weak mob that seek to divert attention from their lack of leadership. They have shown a cavalier attitude to our protection by shouting insanities in relation to mandatory sentencing. Firearms-trafficking control is not a debate for political handball or pointscoring. The attitude of the National Party, led by Barnaby Joyce, is out there in plain sight whenever he has a dummy spit, and the Prime Minister is absolutely powerless to reel him in. They were willing to let the notorious Adler shotgun into our country to buy a vote in the Senate. Buying votes on gun reform is the opposite of keeping Australians safe and protected from gun violence.

The minister's amendment reintroduces mandatory minimum sentences, which have already been knocked back by the Senate. Labor do not support the mandatory minimum sentences, because we know they just don't work. We support the bill as amended by the Senate. Mandatory minimums don't protect us and they don't protect our communities; in fact, they may make them more dangerous. The minister's own department says that mandatory sentencing will not deter people from committing any crime but will simply create greater backlogs while those who participate in these activities, whether in a minor or major fashion, are forced to fight charges no matter the weight of evidence or merit to a case. Let's face it: we could have had these laws in place eight months ago if the minister who crows about being tough had got over his obsession with mandatory sentencing. Labor supports strong laws that include the provision of imprisonment for those convicted of serious criminal activity. Seeking to undermine our hardworking judiciary to divert attention from a party divided is indeed morally bankrupt and is frankly disappointing.

The Attorney-General's Department and the Law Council are both in furious agreement that mandatory minimums do not work. Why does the justice minister believe he is above taking directions and advice from the experts? That is incredibly arrogant. We know that we need to strengthen Australia's firearms control regime to deter potential offenders.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's report on illicit firearms in Australia tells us there is a historic illicit grey market for firearms and instances of legislative loopholes relating to deactivated or inoperable firearms. Contemporary diversion methods to move firearms or firearm components to the domestic illicit firearms market include illicit imports, illicit assembly, illegal manufacture and theft.

We believe that effective deterrence is achieved by increasing penalties applicable to the most serious firearms offenders rather than by imposing prison terms on the least serious offenders. We know mandatory minimums can lead to fewer prosecutions and convictions, sometimes leading juries to acquit rather than sentence, and can conflict with the role of the judiciary. Mandatory minimums produce unintentional consequences. People do not have an incentive to plead guilty or to inform the police on other's actions if they know they are facing a mandatory sentence. It builds on the incentive to fight an appeal against convictions.

Even former Prime Minister John Howard has previously commented that, as a matter of principle, he doesn't agree with mandatory sentencing and, in the end, he does think that these matters ought to be determined by judges and magistrates. It is a shame Mr Howard is only getting rolled out for his opinion on mandatory sentencing. There is no evidence that mandatory sentencing has the effect of reducing crime rates. Increasing the maximum penalties for illegal firearms trafficking provides ample ability for the court to adequately punish those who seek to use weapons to do our communities harm.

If there is one thing the people in my electorate of Lindsay expect, it's that we work together on these issues. We don't seek political gain from certain sections of the community. This is division and diversion from a desperate, disparate government that seeks to limit our rights as far as hearing an appropriate response from people who know that mandatory sentencing simply does not work.

The relevant Senate committee, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, recently heard compelling evidence from the Law Council of Australia, who referred to the consequences of mandatory sentencing's potential to undermine the 'confidence in the judiciary and the criminal justice system as a whole'. The Australian Human Rights Commission also raised their concerns, noting that these amendments would give rise to the 'potential for injustice to occur' and 'run counter to the fundamental principle that punishment should fit the crime'. These are two respected institutions that have a serious job to do. We do not take their views lightly. Why is this minister so arrogantly obsessed with mandatory minimums? Does he think he knows better than the experts?

I note that state prosecutors, whose political masters love to spruik law and order policies, also oppose mandatory sentencing on the same grounds. Further to this, the Law Council of Australia, in its submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee:

… voiced its unconditional opposition to mandatory sentencing as a penalty for any criminal offence on the basis that raises the potential for unintended consequences, such as:

the imposition of unacceptable restrictions on judicial discretion and independence which is inconsistent with rule of law principles;

the potential imposition of unjust or unduly harsh sentences;

the infringement of a fundamental sentencing principle that a sentence and punishment should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence, having regard to the circumstances of the case …

Labor will always listen to those experts and understand the consequences of action. We will always oppose mandatory sentencing, because we understand the limitations. Labor sought the amendments relating to mandatory sentencing twice in 2015 and were unsuccessful. The message is clear and unambiguous. Again, that does not mean we don't agree that severe punishment should not be meted out to serious crimes. Serious crimes require serious consequences. They also require serious consideration, not spurious shouting and accusations from those opposite.

The Australian Crime Commission undertook a national intelligence assessment of the illegal firearms market in the first half of 2012. While the report on its assessment is not publicly available, some of the key findings were released by the Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice on 29 June 2012 following a presentation of the report to the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management. The findings included that there are over 2.75 million registered firearms in Australia held by more than 730,000 individual firearms licence holders. The ACC conservatively estimates that in the Australian illicit firearms market there are 250,000 longarms, such as rifles, and 10,000 handguns, around 6,500 of which would be semiautomatic, and the durability of firearms means that once diverted to the illicit market they remain available for decades, with the ACC tracing the oldest firearm to a revolver that was manufactured in 1888.

This is a global challenge for our law enforcement agencies that reaches far, far beyond our shores. We want tougher penalties for gun smugglers. A single illegal firearm in the hands of a criminal—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and the member for Lindsay will be given an opportunity at that time to complete her contribution.