Firearms Bill - 18 November 2015

Friday 05 February, 2016

Mr TARZIA ( Hartley ) ( 17:19 :04 ): I also rise today to support the Firearms Bill 2015. I learnt a lot during the consultation phase of this bill. I learnt that a lot of my constituents—many more than I thought—do have firearms, and it was good to see so much interest in the bill by local constituents.

It enabled me to really look into detail at the sorts of issues that they were facing in respect of this legislation and the complex issues that are highlighted in such a bill. I have to say—and I echo the words of the deputy leader—that I commend the minister for the way he has gone about preparing this legislation, as well as the drafters of the bill and the South Australian police.

I have had a little bit to do with the South Australian police, particularly the firearms unit, over the years because many local constituents have had issues, big and small, with that area, and I must say that I have always found that particular section of the police to be very statesman-like, very professional and firm, but very fair as well. This is a complex regime and it is an area that is very difficult to get right. Trying to rectify the many flaws that exist in the legislation is very difficult to do and so I commend those responsible for doing so.

In saying that, many people in my area are part of an array of groups that use firearms—gun clubs, hunters, clay target shooters, etc. I am pretty sure that my parents may have a deregistered firearm. They might actually be implicated firsthand—

Mr Gardner: Decommissioned.

Mr TARZIA: Decommissioned.

Mr Gardner: Deactivated.

Mr TARZIA: Deactivated. They may have a deactivated firearm, so even some of my relatives might be impacted by legislation if it is passed in the next couple of days. Many of the people who have come to see me have sincere issues, which I will highlight in due course. One of them is about the cost of administering the bill, how it will be costed, and where that money is coming from.

We all know that firearms and legislating around firearms is an extremely serious issue. Many registered firearms that are acquired for legitimate purposes can be diverted to the illicit market. It is unfortunate that the few who do the wrong thing make it much harder for what are many law-abiding, licensed individuals, as well as licensed firearms dealers as well.

Many of the firearms that are acquired legally unfortunately have a tendency to be stolen, and illegal importation is another massive market in Australia. The Australian Crime Commission conservatively estimates, in fact, that there are more than 250,000 longarms and 10,000 handguns in the illicit firearms market, so these are significant issues. What we are talking about here is people using firearms. Obviously, the firearms themselves do not cause harm without that human element, and so what we have to do as lawmakers is to make sure that we regulate this area extremely well so that we keep the people of South Australia as safe as we can.

The member for Morialta has proposed many amendments. I agree with those amendments, which I will explain. Amendment 1 is in relation to changing the first principle of the act to remove the word 'privilege' at 3(1)(a). Amendment 2 is to change the first object of the act to remove the word 'prohibit' at 3(2)(a). Amendment 3 is to change the sixth object of the act to remove duplication of the word 'criminal' at 3(2)(f).

There is an amendment concerning ammunition components, which I know he will flesh out in the committee stage, as well as some comments that we will have concerning the definition of ammunition at clause 4, and potentially changing the term double barrel to multiple barrel at 5(b). I know we may have some questions around the minimum age for junior shooters as well.

The introduction of the general defence is a significant area of law and, for the purposes of natural justice, this defence is around an array of areas, and obviously that is extremely important to us. This general defence, which exists in the current act, we think is certainly worthy of discussion, at least to make sure that it is included in the amendments that we will be speaking about. That is something that we will certainly have more to say about as well.

There are many goals for the new act, and who could argue with any of them? We are all hand in hand here when it comes to the purposes, the goals, the intention of what the minister says are those of the new act. For example, improving public safety and preventing crime; reducing red tape; overcoming deficiencies; facilitating a nationally consistent approach to firearm control; increasing functionality of the act; and modernising the act.

In regard to improving public safety and preventing crime, the bill speaks about creating regulatory power for the introduction of a security code, and that security will reflect the level of the risk involved. In relation to public safety notices, they will be available to a senior police officer who can serve it on the owner or occupier of a dealership, firing range or the like, requiring that they take certain actions in relation to whatever the public safety concern is. The new bill obviously also speaks about firearms prohibition orders and how the registrar may issue a firearms provision order (an FPO) against members of criminal organisations or against people subject to a control order.

Self-audits are spoken about, and I note that licensed firearm owners or dealers may be required to undertake a self-audit of firearms in their possession at the time of renewing their gun licence. There is also the introduction of an aggravated offence for unlicensed possession of a firearm if an unlicensed person commits a drug-related crime. Obviously we have seen a link between that sort of behaviour and further criminal activity, so I think that is a very relevant consideration that this bill adopts.

There are dealer employee prohibition elements to the bill as well as the registrar authority to inquire regarding licensing as well. Red tape reduction is also targeted in this bill and I think, when we can reduce red tape, like any area of law, we should certainly look to do so, as long as there is safety, and safety needs to be our paramount factor in consideration of this bill. As long as the safety of the public is maintained, if there is room for red tape reduction then so be it.

I know that my colleague the member for Morialta, the shadow minister, will have more to say about inserting vicarious liability provisions. You have to be careful; I think you have to tread carefully when you talk about vicarious liability and the implications that may have. I know that that will certainly come out in committee.

I spoke a little about deactivated firearms. Obviously at the moment no registration is needed and I know that the police have argued that it is a public safety problem as a result, particularly of a case in Queensland where 4,000 deactivated firearms were reactivated and circulated among criminal organisations. I acknowledge that that maybe a risk; however, I think we can be doing much better here and we need to flesh out the issues involved here, because the bill, as I understand it, requires that deactivated firearms need to be registered.

I understand that the government has said that there is no cost to apply for the registration if done within the first 12 months. How is that going to be communicated? I suggest that people who are in possession of these sorts of firearms would need to be contacted quite rapidly.

I have had some dealings with paperwork in this area. The paperwork can move slowly, especially around this time of year. Not only that but the course involved to get a licence takes quite a while. I have had I do not know whether it is pleasure or pain of helping someone fill out their paperwork in the past, and it does take time, because it is a rigid process and the right checks, balances and measures need to be undertaken. At the moment it would seem that a deactivated firearm owner would have to have the firearms licence. This is something that I think we should further explore at the committee stage. We might be looking at, for example, specifically prohibiting charging a fee for that registration or licence if the only purpose is to register a deactivated firearm.

Obviously regulated imitation firearms are dealt with as well. That is a very valid addition to the bill. There will be a code of practice in relation to the transportation of firearms, and the focus will be on reasonable precautions. As the member for Finniss alluded to, common sense should certainly come into this, and it has come out in the context of the debate.

Whilst we can never be too careful in relation to firearms, I think a degree of common sense must always shine through. I would ask the house to consider that when considering any sensible amendments that the opposition moves. It is fair to say that there is a substantial amount of goodwill here, and I would like to think that in a bipartisan manner we may be able to get through whatever small issues we can for the greater good of this legislation and the safety of the people of South Australia.

In excluding prescribed firearms from the handgun definition, I notice that that sawn down long arms will be specifically defined as prescribed firearms and not as handguns. I think that is also important. In the bill we and the minister, in his earlier comments, have also spoken about the national approach to firearm control; it is very important. If we can make these sorts of things universal across Australia that is a good thing. It is good that we finally understand that there should always be a general reason to acquire a firearms licence. I know that South Australia Police have characterised this as a matter that they certainly agree to after the awful incident at Port Arthur, the massacre in 1996. I notice that this particular angle has not been covered and implemented in South Australia, so it is about time that this happens, and I would certainly welcome it. There should always be a genuine reason and need to acquire a firearm.

In terms of increasing useability, I notice that there are a number of disqualifying offences as well as the ongoing general amnesty. I echo the sentiments of some of my colleagues. From 1 July 2016 there will be an ongoing general amnesty for someone who has unauthorised access to a firearm to be able hand it in at a police station. Why not? It is much better that they hand it in to the police rather than keeping it on the street. The government has already announced an amnesty that will operate until 1 July 2016; so, in effect this provision would be in place from now, and publicity has started. I notice that there are—

The Hon. A. Piccolo interjecting:

Mr TARZIA: 1 December, thank you, minister. The act is also being modernised by amending certain licence categories as well as terminology to make sure that it is up to date. There are a number of other issues that we will flesh out at the committee stage as well.

Overall, I think the minister has given this bill a very solid crack. There has been consultation with a range of stakeholders. It is an extremely difficult bill to get right first time around. We will on this side of the chamber be putting forward what I know are sensible amendments. I would encourage the minister and the government to consider them.

I think overall, however, we will end up in a much better spot at the end of this than we are at the moment, and at the end of the day, whatever we can be doing to ensure that the people of South Australia are safe and that this level of regulation strikes a good balance between that regulation and safety I think is a fantastic thing. I commend the bill to the house. I look forward to seeing these sensible amendments implemented from our side and look forward to debating the bill hopefully when it comes back from the other place.