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Wednesday, 25 October 2017
Page: 11993


Mr KEENAN (StirlingMinister for Justice and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter-Terrorism) (16:35): I thank all honourable members for their contribution to the debate on the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2017, which will introduce new mandatory minimum sentences and increase maximum penalties for firearms-trafficking offences. There have been a wide range of statements made in this debate. In particular, we heard repeatedly from those opposite that mandatory minimum sentences should be opposed as they remove incentives for offenders to cooperate with law enforcement or to plead guilty. However, if members had read the amendments introduced by the government, they would have known that they do, indeed, provide for discounts on the mandatory minimum sentences if offenders plead guilty or if they cooperate with our law enforcement agencies. These amendments provide clear incentives for offenders to plead guilty and to cooperate with law enforcement.

We also heard from those opposite about the case of former Victorian police chief commissioner Simon Overland, who, of course, would not be captured by this bill. The bill is aimed at traffickers—people with intent—not those who make honest mistakes. This was clearly an honest mistake and, of course, he was not charged with any offence. This, as I indicated previously, reflects the discretion that our law enforcement agencies have and continue to exercise each and every single day when it comes to deciding whether to initiate a prosecution.

We also heard that juries would be less likely to convict gun runners if they knew they would get a mandatory minimum sentence. As my colleague the member for La Trobe, who has a lot of experience in these matters, being a former police officer, said in his contribution, 'Juries are actually tough, and they don't have a problem convicting people who are guilty of crimes, and they wouldn't have a problem convicting gun traffickers.'

We also heard from a number of speakers opposite that they do not support mandatory minimum sentences, as a matter of principle. That's interesting because they actually introduced, when they were in office, mandatory sentencing for the crime of people smuggling, in 2010. At the time, Labor's then Attorney-General said:

The use of mandatory minimum penalties reflects the seriousness of the activity being prosecuted. It allows the court to determine an appropriate penalty within the minimum and maximum set by parliament.

The then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said at the time:

This legislation includes mandatory minimum penalties for organisers and created a new offence of providing material support for people smuggling …

It was supported at the time by members on that side of the House who are still in the House. The member for Gorton, who was once the Minister for Home Affairs, supported mandatory sentencing at the time. Others who, funnily enough, even spoke in these debates against mandatory sentencing spoke for mandatory sentencing when the people-smuggling bill was introduced in 2010.

The fact is that a combination of mandatory minimum sentences and increased maximum penalties sends the strongest possible message that the illegal trafficking of guns will not be tolerated. Unless a mandatory sentence is introduced, it will remain possible for low sentences to be issued to offenders. I reiterate the fact that, when this bill was debated in the Senate earlier this year, the government, in good faith, supported amendments related to increased sentences for firearms trafficking. This was obviously in line with our election commitment—but also in line with our election commitment that we took to the Australian people in 2016 was the fact that there would be a mandatory sentence for this heinous crime.

If members are truly serious about ensuring that courts impose adequate sentences on gun traffickers, they will support all of the measures contained within this bill—but, sadly, it appears that members opposite will not be supporting mandatory minimum sentences. I implore them to get on board with this tough legislation. This bill and bipartisan support for it within the parliament will send the strongest possible message that we won't tolerate gun crime, and it will create the strongest possible deterrent. The Australian people shouldn't be subject to the sorts of violence that can result from gun smuggling. It actually complements the very tough gun law regime that we have place in Australia. Again I would urge the Labor Party to rethink. If it was good enough to introduce, support and pass mandatory sentences for people smuggling in 2010, it's good enough to support mandatory sentences for gun smuggling in 2017.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.