Firearms and Weapons Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE ( 11:59 ): I speak on behalf of The Greens in the debate on the Firearms and Weapons Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 and note our genuine concerns. It appears that this bill has been introduced by the Government as a pre-emptive surrender—no doubt driven by some threatened Nationals members in the bush—to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and the threat of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation when it comes to guns. It is deeply unfortunate that a Coalition Government in New South Wales is tearing down key elements of what is, from the perspective of The Greens, one of the few really important national steps that John Howard took by using some political capital on his side of politics to make Australia a far safer place by putting in place the National Firearms Agreement.

This bill partly implements a very weak agreement at a Federal level on lever action shotguns, re‑categorising certain lever action shotguns that have six shots—five in the magazine and one in the barrel—from category A to category B, and putting into category D those that have more than six shots. But this bill has a sting in the tail, because it grandfathers many of the existing lever action shotguns and leaves them with in the hands of lower category licence holders. The bill increases from one to three the number of the most dangerous weapons—category D firearms—that a primary producer is permitted to have for vertebrate pest control, without explaining the rationale for that. Why anyone would need three of the most dangerous weapons for vertebrate pest control has not been explained. There have been substantial numbers of firearm thefts, particularly in the regions. We do not understand why this Government wants to put more firearms into circulation, potentially making them available to criminals.

The bill provides a temporary amnesty of three months for the surrender of firearms, firearm parts and ammunition. The Greens support that aspect of the bill. We think an amnesty is important, and I note there is a regulation-making power to allow it to be extended if the number of weapons surrendered is significant. In a direct capitulation to a non-factual fear campaign generated by elements of the gun lobby, the bill waters down the ammunition controls that were brought in by the last Parliament. These ammunition controls are essential. Police in New South Wales and jurisdictions such as the United States will tell you how important it is to know where ammunition is going, because ammunition expires after a period of time—

The Hon. Robert Borsak: Like water and air. It can go anywhere.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I hear the interjection from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. That party is so taken with the rhetoric of the gun lobby that it describes ammunition as being like water and air. Most people in New South Wales who want safe gun laws can distinguish between ammunition and essentials such as water and air.

The Hon. Niall Blair: Point of order: We will have an interesting evening debating a number of amendments to this bill—more interesting, I think, than the State of Origin game—but to get to that point we must allow members to make their contributions to the debate on the second reading without interjections. At the very least interjections are disorderly, but most importantly they make it very difficult for Hansard to record the debate accurately.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( The Hon. Trevor Khan ): I endorse that comment. I invite the Hon. Robert Borsak to remain calm, and I invite Mr David Shoebridge to direct his comments through the Chair and not encourage the Hon. Robert Borsak.

The Hon. Robert Borsak: That is difficult to do.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( The Hon. Trevor Khan ): I know it is.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I promise to do the former; I will try to do the latter. If police want to track down a criminal or are concerned about ammunition falling into the wrong hands, having current information about where ammunition is going is essential for police intelligence, and it is essential in tracking down potential crimes such as terrorism. On the very day the State Coroner handed down the results of the coronial inquiry into the Lindt Café siege and said that we must be extremely careful about these kinds of matters, this Government introduced a bill to water down our firearms laws and remove one of the key provisions in tracking ammunition, which goes to show that this Government has again surrendered to the gun lobby.

This bill also waters down the safe storage requirements for firearms. One of the key achievements of the 1996 compact, the National Firearms Agreement, was to ensure that we had safe storage requirements. Safe storage means that guns must be locked and secured in a place where they cannot be accessed on impulse. That control over impulse saves lives. It prevents people from simply going and getting a firearm in a moment of deep depression or anger. They have to get the key, unlock the cabinet, remove the firearm and get the ammunition from a separate place. That saves lives.

Last year I travelled to the United States [US] to see what is going wrong in its gun debate and found that suicide rates from death by firearm in places like Colorado are extraordinary. Something like 78 per cent of all firearms deaths in States like Colorado are the result of suicide, particularly in regional areas, because there are no safe storage requirements in the United States. The US gun lobby screams like stuck pigs whenever there is an attempt to put in place safe storage requirements. Its members have a defence fantasy, believing that late at night they will be able to reach for their fully loaded shotgun and kill an invader in their house, despite all the evidence saying that those guns are far more likely to be lethal to themselves and their family members. Safe storage requirements are recognised in the US by gun control advocates who know how Australia’s laws work to save people’s lives.

When one looks at the collapse in the number of rural suicides by firearm in New South Wales after the 1996 National Firearms Agreement, one can see that safe storage requirements save lives. When the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, the Christian Democratic Party and others who attack safe storage laws say, “People will find another way to kill themselves if they want to commit suicide,” it is clear they have not been speaking to the experts and do not understand the reality. There is a reason that male suicides tend to be at a much higher rate than female suicides: It is because there are many more successful attempts because men tend to use guns, motor vehicles and more certain lethal methods than women. The more guns that are around, the greater the capacity for men in the regions to take their lives with a single shot. That is why The Greens will never support any legislation that waters down safe storage, as this bill proposes to do.

The bill also reduces the controls on imitation firearms. It removes the requirement to get a permit to acquire an imitation firearm if the person seeking to acquire it already has a firearms licence to obtain that category of weapon. Why is it a problem to allow increased access to imitation firearms? Because imitation firearms are regularly used in serious crimes in New South Wales. Because if you ask a staff member at a 7-Eleven to work out whether what is being pointed at them is an imitation Glock or a real Glock, an imitation semiautomatic or a real semiautomatic, they cannot tell.

Nor can police tell if what is being pointed by a criminal is a real or imitation weapon. Imitation weapons have a capacity to cause serious harm in New South Wales. They are already used in crimes.

The removal of the requirement to have a permit to acquire an imitation firearm has not been explained by the Minister or this Government. It is a dangerous precedent, removing important community safety controls from the firearms legislation. There is one other small aspect of this bill that The Greens support, which is to require an application for a licence or permit to be refused if the applicant is subject to an interim apprehended violence order or is registered under the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act. That requirement should have been included in the legislation from day one. It has been included in what is otherwise largely a capitulation to the gun lobby and a modest step forward in this bill. It is a Trojan horse that is being used to introduce watering down provisions with the reclassification of lever action shotguns. In skilled hands these are rapid fire, lethal weapons. If members do not believe me they can have the misfortune of going online and looking at the site of one of the Federal importers of lever action shotguns to see how they celebrate being able to fire off 10 shots in less than 10 seconds.

The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: It must be seven.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Why does anybody in New South Wales need to have a gun that can fire off 10 shots in 10 seconds, or eight shots in eight seconds? It is known that—despite the peculiar interjection from the former Government Whip—magazine extensions are available online that can increase the magazine capacity from five to 12, and from seven to 15. They are being used already on lever action shotguns and are often sold out of South Australia. What was originally sold as a lever action shotgun with a maximum of six shots—five in the magazine and one up the spout—can become 12 shots or 15 shots. They are very dangerous weapons. Why on earth would we allow anyone to get their hands on these rapid fire dangerous weapons? The Greens believe that these firearms should be restricted weapons and classified as category D or greater.

How many are we talking about? The very successful advertising and marketing campaign from the gun merchants has seen thousands of these lever action shotguns introduced into New South Wales. We are not talking about 1,000 or 2,000 or 5,000. The latest figures provided by the Government indicate that as at January 2017 in New South Wales there were 9,879 lever action shotguns, these rapid fire highly dangerous weapons. When ordinary members of the community are asked whether they should be available in broad circulation in New South Wales, they say no. They expect their politicians to defend the gun laws and prohibit these kinds of dangerous weapons. Ordinary people cannot work out why anyone would need any of these rapid fire shotguns, let alone—as the Government is proposing—allow farmers to have three.

People with a category B licence are able to have sitting in their shed an unlimited number of rapid fire shotguns with a magazine capacity of five or less. What has gone wrong with the gun laws? What has gone wrong with good policy that we are allowing an explosion of lethal weapons in New South Wales? Worse still, this Government is proposing to allow people who have a category A licence—the lowest level of licence—to have access to six-shot lever action shotguns. The Government wants to grandfather the provisions and say, “Do not worry about it. They can keep this really dangerous weapon even though they are not licensed to have it.” That is a further capitulation seen in the transitional provisions of this bill.

The sheer number of guns in New South Wales often surprises people. There was much anger from the gun lobby when The Greens released information about the number of guns in New South Wales on our toomanyguns.org website. If people wish to know how many guns are kept in their post code they can log on to that website, enter their post code and find out the frightening number of guns registered in their neighbourhood. They can find out the number of guns owned by the person who has the largest private arsenal as well as the overall number of guns in their post code. There are post codes in New South Wales where thousands of guns are kept. There are many people in New South Wales who have more than 100 guns in their private arsenals and there are people in places such as North Sydney and Mosman who have more than 250 guns in their private residences.

The Hon. Robert Borsak: Collectors.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I note the interjection. They are not collectors.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( The Hon. Trevor Khan ): Order!

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: In the request from the Firearms Registry we cleaned out that data. There is one person in a suburb of Newcastle who has more than 370 guns—a substantial private arsenal owned by one person. What is going wrong with the gun laws when the police require people to have a genuine reason for owning a gun and they can use the same genuine reason to acquire the first gun, their second gun, their fifth gun, their tenth gun, their twentieth gun, their 100th gun, their 200th gun, their 300th gun, their 370th gun? There may be a genuine reason to have one gun, perhaps for feral pest control, but how can the same genuine reason be recycled to allow 370 of these weapons to be kept? There is something seriously wrong with the gun laws that allow the recycling of these reasons and the acquisition of private arsenals.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( The Hon. Trevor Khan ): Order!

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: There is no legitimate reason for somebody who is not a registered collector to have 370 guns. That is why there are now more than 850,000 registered firearms in New South Wales. That is reaching the number of registered firearms held before the successful gun amnesty following the Port Arthur massacre. I am grateful for the ongoing work of Gun Control Australia, in particular advocates such as Sam Lee, as well as academics such as Philip Alpers and others, who continue to make the case for community safety and what was achieved in 1996. I appreciate the briefing that was given by Gun Control Australia, which sets out its summary of key concerns with the bill. The shooters advocates and the gun lobby keep saying, “There is nothing to see here with the lever action shotgun. It is a standard old weapon. It has been around for ages.” I will read on to the record from Gun Control Australia what they say about it:

The traditional and older lever action longarms were clunky, wooden and single shot and based on an 1873 Winchester rifle. Eventually the lever action moved into the shotgun market and as technology and design advanced so did the lever action longarms. These once clunky firearms have advanced into slick, synthetic firearms with pistol grips, side saddles for extra ammunition and internal and detachable magazines.

The lever action shotgun is an expanding and fast developing market with over 20 new models introduced in the past 2 years. Accompanying this market expansion is a new magazine extension market specific to the lever action shotguns.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( The Hon. Trevor Khan ): Order! Stop the clock. Members will cease interjecting. If it is difficult for people to hear, particularly Hansard, then it is disorderly. I encourage members to let Mr David Shoebridge have his final one minute and five seconds in peace.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE:

It is a market which gun manufacturers seek to capture because of the large numbers of Category A and B licence holders in Australia.

More than 418,000 just in New South Wales.

Currently lever action shotguns are categorized as the lowest gun regulation category…

We are talking about vile weapons like the Sweeper, the Punisher, the Lucky, the Kryptex, the Synthetic Combo, the Synthetic Adler, and the Camo Adler. These weapons have no place in a civilised society that is focused on community safety. The Greens are deeply concerned about the direction of elements of this bill. We have a series of proposed amendments, which we will move in Committee, focused on community safety and that remind us why we put in place the National Firearms Agreement. That agreement was a response to an appalling mass murder which, for once, politicians took seriously and courageously passed legislation in response.

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