Firearms Bill | SPEECH


Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 28 October 2015.)

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 12:13 :00 ): It is my pleasure to rise to comment on behalf of the people of Stuart on the Firearms Bill. At the outset, I say that I strongly support people or organisations who want to legally and responsibly own and/or use firearms. That is very important and, just as important, I am completely opposed to anybody who wants to illegally or irresponsibly use or own firearms. Illegal firearms are one of the scourges of our society, but that does not mean that the legally responsible people need to be penalised so that we can address that scourge. I accept that it is a very difficult balance to find legislation that does both those things.

I also declare my personal interest. I am a legal and responsible (certainly in my opinion, although that is for others to judge) owner and user of firearms, so I have a personal interest in this debate, and it is it only fair that the house knows that. It is also very important to my electorate, the electorate of Stuart, and there are many constituents of mine who are responsible, legal owners and users of firearms.

I thank the many constituents who approached me on this topic and the many other organisations from around the state who have approached me—some people I know well; some people I have never heard of before. All the organisations that have approached me I have dealt with before as a former shadow for police, and I thank all those people for contacting me and putting their perspective and their point of view forward because I know that every single one of them has done it in a responsible, positive, well-meaning way.

This is really all about public safety; it is not so much about the weapon or the implement or the article itself. It is actually about public safety, it is about keeping the public safe and it is about keeping the police force safe—the people who work night and day to keep us safe so that they are not confronted with criminals or potential criminals in possession of illegal firearms, or even in possession of legal firearms, who are going to use them illegally or irresponsibly.

It is obviously about public safety, but it is also about the safety of legal and responsible firearms users. There are a lot of aspects of this legislation, including protecting people from even accidental harm, whether it is a physical accident—tripping, falling, whatever it happens to be—or some personal error of judgement. It is important to remember that this is about trying to protect everybody, regardless of how it is that they personally participate with regard to firearms.

As I said before, it is a very difficult topic for the government to find a position on, for police to find a position on, and for the opposition, because there are people on both sides of the argument with extremely strong views. What sets this apart from many other areas of debate is that there are people on the same side of the argument with differing views as well. There are people within the broader firearms community who do not all agree with each other on different aspects of not only this bill but how firearms in general should be used, accessed, stored, etc., so it is a very difficult topic.

I acknowledge that this is a tough spot for the government to be in. I acknowledge the work of the police, in my judgement, to find the very best way forward that they possibly can. I acknowledge that it will not be possible to get it just right so that every person who is actively involved in this area of interest will be fully satisfied, but I say again that a large part of that is because a lot of different segments of the firearms community actually have different views as well. Clearly, it is not possible to make all of them happy, let alone make happy the people who are in favour of responsible use of firearms and the people who are not in favour of that, and that extends the difficulties even further.

I would like to put on record my very strong support for the shadow minister for police, the member for Morialta, because I know that this is not something that has been part of his personal life previously. He has pursued this issue and done much homework and engaged with the minister, engaged with police and engaged with the firearms community to the very best of his ability in a really open and objective way, and I think he has done a tremendous job. I know that the minister has engaged with him very positively as well. There is still work to do between the government and the opposition with regard to amendments, so at this point in time we do not have the final bill that we will be voting on a bit down the track.

I would like talk about the bill from a personal perspective on behalf of the people I represent. The six goals of the new act—to improve public safety and prevent crime, reduce red tape, overcome deficiencies, facilitate a nationally consistent approach to firearms control, increase functionality of the act and modernise the act—are all very important and I support them wholeheartedly. The desire of both the government and SAPOL to pursue those goals makes very good common sense and, as a former shadow for police, I know that the current act needs to be upgraded significantly.

One of the foundations of the legislation and the rules and regulations that we have always dealt with, and will continue to deal with, is a system of having classes and purposes—classes of firearms and purposes of use—and I think that is absolutely spot on. It is really good common sense. There is a lot more on this that I need to talk about, but I am fully in favour of anybody who wants to consider themselves to be a responsible and legal user and/or owner of firearms having to nominate a class or a few classes and nominate a purpose or a few uses.

If you want a pistol for target shooting say so; do it the right way and it is perfectly acceptable. If you want to use your pistol for a different purpose you will need to seek permission to use your pistol for that different purpose. It would be the same for every class of firearm and every purpose there is, and I think it is logical to ask people to nominate them up-front. If you cannot nominate up front exactly what class of firearm you want to have—whether that be for a right to use one or right to own one or both—and if you cannot nominate what you intend using it for, you really are well and truly outside the scope of what most people would think was reasonable.

From time to time there can be some difficulties with regard to professional firearms users in particular, and I am thinking of roo shooters. Every now and again there can be a bit of awkwardness about whether the options for class and use or purpose are quite right for the individual, but I do not have any problem, either, with the fact that that individual could go to SAPOL and say, ‘Look, this is my genuine situation, this is my genuine need. Could I please have some special understanding for that situation?’

One of those situations, which has been brought to me by pastoralists, is a desire to have a .410 pistol for snake and wild dog eradication; essentially, protection from snakes around homesteads and shearing sheds, etc., as well as the capacity to actively pursue a wild dog while riding a motorbike. I would say that is a very practical request for the right person to make. I do not intend that to be anything I will bring into this bill, or an amendment or anything like that, but, on behalf of my constituents, I just flag that if you are living several hundred kilometres or more from Adelaide it is a practical situation. You might well and truly find that one of the best ways to try to humanely eradicate a wild dog below the dog fence is to have a .410 pistol. I just use that as an example of what people could ask for, to have a class or purpose that is actually outside the regulations at the moment.

One of the greatest difficulties of this legislation is the fact that we are dealing with regulations that sit outside the act. It is no secret that that is actually the most awkward part of all of this. The regulations are outside the act, and if the regulations were written in one way it would make many people happy and if they were written another way it would make many people unhappy. I understand why some of that flexibility is necessary, but it is not possible to avoid the reality that so much of what is important and so much of what will actually impact on people’s lives is in the regulations. We in the opposition do not know what the regulations are at the moment, and of course people are concerned that down the track they could be changed at any time.

That requires a great deal of trust. Now, I am happy to say: I trust the police. Not every single one out of 4½ thousand police officers is just perfect but, as a broad and genuine statement, I trust the police. Of course, because I trust the police does not mean that everybody is necessarily going to be comfortable with that. I have had briefings with the police over many years on firearms, and I believe they want to go about this the right way. They are not trying to squeeze out responsible people: they are trying to squeeze out irresponsible and illegal people, and they deserve to have the flexibility to do that. They do not deserve to have the flexibility to make the rights of responsible firearms owners and/or users more difficult.

In the time that is left, I just want to talk about some of the specifics of the bill and again share my perspective on behalf of the people of Stuart. The issue of a right versus a privilege is important to a lot of people. To be perfectly honest, it does not matter to me; it honestly does not matter. It is what you are allowed to do versus what you are not allowed to do. I know that that is important for a lot of people in the firearms community, but I do not really mind if it is called a right or a privilege. I just want to know what people are actually allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do.

Permission to purchase is an issue that has been brought to me by licensed responsible firearms dealers. I think it is very important that we reverse the current situation whereby a person goes to a firearms dealer, essentially purchases a firearm and pays a deposit; the dealer has to buy it and put it in a safe. So, not only is the individual’s money outlaid but also the dealer’s. Then you go to the police and ask for actual permission to acquire that firearm. I understand that that can be reversed. I think that is very important.

It is much more sensible for a person to get their permission up-front. The police say, ‘Yes, you are responsible. You’ve passed every test we would consider appropriate for this request. Here’s your piece of paper, you have permission’. Then you go back to the firearms dealer and say, ‘I’m completely compliant and legal, I’d like to purchase this, please’ and outlay your money. Firearms dealers are not stuck with dozens and dozens of guns, their hard-earned working capital is not tied up and everyone can get on with it.

The police could always withdraw that permission down the track if they needed to anyway. The permission should have a time limit on it and not be open-ended; it could be three months, four months or whatever seems appropriate to actually go about acquiring that firearm. If you do not do it, the permission can just lapse.

The issue with regard to silencers or noise inhibitors is something that would affect a very small percentage of the community, but I think it is important that it is being considered; that for specific purposes they could become legal. Expiation notices—I think that is a very positive thing. Overwhelmingly, the biggest issue, the most emotional and commonly brought up issue that has ever come to me about firearms is the fact that if you make one tiny mistake you have broken the law. It makes great sense to have an expiation notice, just like a speeding ticket, to say, ‘You’re not a criminal. We’re not going to waste the court’s time, your time and police time, but you have actually done the wrong thing. So, here’s an expiation notice.’ It could be up to the officer involved at the time to decide exactly how to apply that if and when necessary. I think that is really important.

It is quite understandable that somebody could be doing everything just right but maybe they dropped a box of bullets on the floor and did not manage to pick up every single one of them and one rolled under the cupboard and was not locked up appropriately. Technically, it is wrong, but they do not need to go to court for that. So, I think that is a very positive aspect of the bill.

Restrictions on stored ammunition—I am comfortable that there should be restrictions. It is not necessary for people to have outrageous amounts of ammunition, but of course what the restrictions will be is going to be in the regulations. It does make people very uncomfortable. It is hard to vote in favour of that while in favour of the principle without knowing what the restrictions would actually be.

Restrictions on firearms ownership is exactly the same as the ammunition. I do not believe that people need to have enormous numbers of firearms in their possession, even if they are incredibly responsible. Unless you are a collector of some sort, I do not see the need for that. If you are a professional roo shooter, for example, it might be very sensible to have three or perhaps four firearms of the same calibre. Again, that is going to be in the regulations, so, again, another very important area of trust.

Employees of farm or station owners in primary industry to be able to access the storage of firearms is, I think, a tremendous move forward. It is very important that access to a firearm can be shared between the right people so that they can go about doing their work, understanding that relatively quick access is often necessary. That is a really good thing.

Ongoing amnesty is very positive. It is just common sense that there should be ongoing amnesty. The need for SAPOL to have its IT systems upgraded has been an issue for a long time. I am sure that the minister, SAPOL, the commissioner, the opposition and everybody would agree that SAPOL, really across the board, is working with outdated IT systems, not just in firearms but absolutely everywhere. This legislation will require a significant investment in SAPOL’s IT systems for it to be effective. It is very, very important. We know that too many firearms are reported lost, stolen, missing all the time, but we also know that some of those are technical losses as well, over years tied up with the IT systems that monitor firearms. It has to be dealt with. Again, separating the legal firearm owners users from the illegal is the key to this.

I have spoken with firearms groups, and I have said that I am comfortable with making some of the rules and regulations a bit stiffer, not because I want them to be penalised but because I think it is actually to the advantage of the legal firearms community to separate themselves from the illegal firearms community, and one of the ways to do that is to have some slightly tighter rules and regulations that you have to follow. I think we should have a world where everybody knows that if you see somebody clearly responsibly going about their business with a firearm, and it might be just walking between the car and a shop (and, by the way, by shop I mean gun dealer or a firearm shop, not the corner deli), the broader community should know that we have got great rules, that this is not something to be scared of. You can tell the difference from an outlaw motorcycle gang person doing whatever their business is.

I do not want life to become harder for the responsible people, but I do accept that responsible people should quite easily be able to adhere to some slightly tighter rules. Again, it comes back to trust. The success of this bill will be all about how the police go about enforcing it. If the police enforce this legislation, if it is successful, in a too heavy-handed way, whether that be the commissioner’s decisions all the way through to the individual officer in a small country town or a suburb of Adelaide, everything we are talking about at the moment will fail. I am comfortable in giving the police an opportunity to do that, but I put clearly on record that, if it is not done responsibly, I will be standing up first and foremost to say so really clearly. I do not expect have to do that, but it is very important. It is fundamental to all of this.

Deputy Speaker, 230 to 250 firearms are stolen every year and hundreds are reported missing. A few years ago, when I was shadow for police, the Australian Crime Commission reported between 1,000 and 1,100 firearms missing, stolen, reported lost, whatever it happens to be, every year. That is what we have to address because they are the firearms that end up in the hands of criminals. This bill, on the surface, will aid that effort enormously. On that basis, I am comfortable to support it with what I know at the moment. I do want to know more about the regulations. I do want to know what the final set of amendments that we will be dealing with is, but the principles I have talked about are principles that I am very comfortable with. I think they are important for the protection of the community and the protection of the legal responsible firearms owners.