Labor can be trusted to protect Australia's world-leading gun laws

Around 800 firearms and related items, including pistols and machine-guns, were recently surrendered by Canberrans to the Australian Federal Police during the National Firearms Amnesty.

Among the firearms that were given to the police was a German ME8 maxim machine-gun, captured by the Australian Light Horse in 1918. We will be commemorating the great work of the Australian Light Horse next week at Beersheba. The German machine-gun was captured by the Australian Light Horse in 1918 and was shipped back to Australia. Before the establishment of the Australian War Records Section in May 1917, the collection of war trophies and relics by Australian units was carried out in accordance with British War Office regulations. The British War Office established a committee to deal with the disposal of trophies and relics. It stated that the best trophies would be selected for a British national war museum. Why doesn't that surprise us colonials? The rest of the trophies would then be distributed among other countries. There was a resistance to this from Australia and, by the end of 1917, the Australian War Records Section controlled the administration of all war trophies captured by Australian units. Those trophies fell into two categories. The first consisted of large trophies, such as artillery pieces, machine-guns and vehicles, which required little protection from the rain. The second group consisted of smaller trophies like daggers, bombs and ammunition.

It wasn't until July 1919 that the Australian War Museum Committee decided a selection of relics and trophies would go on display at the Australian War Museum, now the Australian War Memorial, just over the lake, and the remainder would be divided amongst the states, with a state trophy committee established to administer the relics and trophies across Australia. These committees included one member of the House of Representatives, one Australian Imperial Force officer, one senator, one state government museum representative and the director of the Australian War Museum. The distribution system chosen by all the states was according to the size of the population and the size of the town. For example, towns other than a capital city with a population above 10,000—people would have heard this on ABC Radio the other day—were allocated two artillery pieces and two machine-guns. Towns with a population between 3,000 and 10,000 were allocated an artillery piece, and so on.

That brings me back to the German ME8 maxim machine-gun. As the story goes, the machine-gun was gifted to a town in Victoria and, not long after that, it went missing. After so many years, it has finally been handed in during the gun amnesty here in Canberra. The Australian Federal Police has since donated the machine-gun to the Australian War Memorial. So, in a way, we have a connection going right back to the War Museum, the commemoration of Beersheba and the connection with the Australian Light Horse.

The amnesty this year was the first since the Howard government amnesty that followed the absolutely horrific massacre at Port Arthur, which really shocked Australia to its core. With 50,000 guns handed in across Australia, we still have a long way to go before we truly rid our communities of illegal firearms. There is still a long way to go, but at least Australia again participated in the latest amnesty and we're getting these wonderful stories and these wonderful relics from our history showing up as part of the process. Most importantly, we are getting rid of guns from our communities.

The violence that's happening in my community—and we're talking about 10 to 15 minutes down the road from Parliament House—means that I can say, yes, I do support tougher penalties for firearms trafficking. This year, suburbs in the south of Canberra have been subject to a spate of incidents involving guns. A lot of people who are listening to this broadcast tonight would consider Canberra to be nirvana—it is paradise—but we have pockets of disadvantage and we have incidents of violence. We've had a number of incidents in recent history involving guns. In July, a car was set on fire before shots were fired into a home in Kambah and, less than a week later, police confirmed that 27 shots from a high-powered rifle were fired into a Waramanga house. And just last Tuesday a man was shot in the groin and shoulder—his young family were terrified—and two cars were set alight in the front yard of his Fisher home, in Canberra's south, as part of a targeted attack. This Fisher story, the Kambah story and the Waramanga story are of great concern. These incidents come up again and again at my coffee catch-ups and mobile offices, and I've had a number of emails on it. Canberrans are very concerned about these gun attacks. With this latest one, just a week or so ago at a Fisher home, two young children were at home at the time. It is a great concern.

It is because of incidents like these that Labor supports tougher penalties for firearms trafficking. The difference between the government and Labor isn't so great, but where we do differ is in how we would achieve that goal. We won't support ineffective measures. If we are going to be tough on firearms trafficking then let's introduce maximum penalties not mandatory minimum sentences. I call on the government to consider the amendments proposed by Labor to this bill. In its current form the bill only serves a political outcome. It helps the government fulfil a 2016 campaign commitment—it ticks that box—but the government has had mandatory minimum sentences as a pillar of its crime prevention policy since 2013. And since 2013 any attempt for mandatory minimum sentences to be applied in legislation has failed. The government has tried to get its mandatory minimum sentences through parliament not once but twice and they have been rejected not once but twice. So I'm wondering why the government seems to think that the third time will be the charm. Why is it trying again? What has changed? Is it because the government lost control on guns and now needs to appear tougher than it really is?

Under the government's watch, a record number of weapons have flooded the illicit market. Right now, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission estimates that there are more than 260,000 firearms in the illicit firearms market and possibly as many as 600,000. They estimate that 10,000 of these are handguns. We saw 50,000 guns handed in in the most recent gun amnesty, but that's just a drop in the bucket when we're looking at 260,000 firearms in the illicit market and possibly as many as 600,000. It is estimated that 10,000 of those are handguns. There were 50,000 guns handed in, some of them with a really rich and interesting history. That's just a drop in the bucket.

In the past year, we've also seen savage cuts to the Australian Federal Police abroad. Today's question time was less than pleasant in a range of ways. We heard the member for Hotham, the shadow minister for justice, talking about the fact that the AFP had admitted during Senate estimates that cuts had been made and that had affected its ability to perform its operations, particularly in relation to illicit drugs. As I said, question time today was very unfortunate. The allegations that were made against Labor were absolutely appalling, incredibly low. Hopefully, we won't see a repeat of that tomorrow. As I mentioned, in question time we heard today about the cuts to the AFP here in Australia and also abroad. There have been reports indicating that the number of AFP officers overseas has dropped by 63 per cent in the last year, which is a significant number.

We know that organised crime groups operate within our region, so at a time when we should be tackling these threats and ensuring that we have the resources to do so, we're seeing more cuts by this government. The government is too divided on the issue of guns to take any meaningful action. That is the nub of the problem here. The Adler shotgun proved to be a hugely contentious issue for the government, to the extent that it caused the Nationals to split from the Liberals on the floor of the Senate. We saw Liberals come out in favour of weaker gun laws, in complete contradiction to the strong gun laws that former Prime Minister John Howard put in place and of which he was so proud.

The thing that was so extraordinary about Howard at the time was the fact that he showed leadership. There was a very strong reaction amongst some sectors of the community—the gun lobby, farmers and others—who were opposed to what John Howard, the former Prime Minister, was doing, and yet he showed leadership, knowing that what he was doing was the right thing

Since then, we've had this third attempt by the coalition to pass mandatory minimum sentences for firearms trafficking. But things haven't changed so much since the last time these sentences were considered and the last time these sentences were opposed in this place. Some of the reasons why mandatory minimum sentencing continues to be opposed are that it contravenes the doctrine of the separation of powers and that it also steps on the toes of the judiciary, whose job it is to determine appropriate sentencing and penalties. Despite what the member for La Trobe says, there's little evidence that mandatory sentences actually act as a deterrent to crime. They can lead to unjust or unnecessarily harsh sentences. It's inconsistent with Australia's human rights obligations in the areas of arbitrary detention and the ability of someone to appeal sentences. And, interestingly, the proposal to introduce mandatory minimum sentences goes against the government's own advice set out in its Guide to Framing Commonwealth Offences, Infringement Notices and Enforcement Powers.

Given all of these reasons, and the fact that parliament has already considered and rejected the proposal for mandatory minimum sentences not once but twice, the government has still failed to make its case, as it does so often, for the third assessment of this bill. It hasn't even been able to justify the need for these provisions. The government needs to amend this bill to remove the provisions in schedule 1 relating to mandatory minimum sentences.

Removing the mandatory minimum sentences provision does not mean that Labor is soft on gun crime: quite the opposite! Labor supports the proposal in this bill to increase the maximum penalty of imprisonment to 20 years or a fine of 5,000 penalty units. In addition to this, Labor is proposing further amendments to introduce two new aggravated offences related to firearms trafficking. They are aggravated offences for dealing in 50 or more firearms and firearms parts in a six-month period, and aggravated offences for importing or exporting 50 or more firearms and firearm parts during a six-month period. Both of the new offences attract a maximum penalty of lifetime imprisonment or 7½ thousand penalty units or both. Labor's amendments would make the maximum penalty for trafficking in firearms the same as the maximum penalty for trafficking in drugs. It sends a very strong message, stronger than mandatory minimum sentences, that trafficking large numbers of illegal firearms is just as dangerous as trafficking large quantities of drugs and that the same maximum penalties should apply.

Labor first introduced the aggravated offences in 2012 in the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012. The measures passed the House with the support of the then Liberal opposition but lapsed at the end of the parliament. The proposals in this bill only contain maximum sentences of 20 years. With Labor's amendments, prosecutors could pursue tougher penalties for the worst forms of firearms trafficking. The proposals in this bill are ineffective measures to distract from the fact that the government is weak and divided on the issue of gun control. Labor is proposing tough measures to create new aggravated offences with the strongest penalty available: life imprisonment. Only Labor can be trusted to protect Australia's world-leading gun laws.

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