Firearms Amendment (Prohibited Pistols) Bill

About this Item
SubjectsFirearms; Sport and Recreation; Weapons; Shootings
SpeakersKelly The Hon Tony; Clarke The Hon David
BusinessBill, Second Reading

Page: 2733

    Second Reading

    The Hon. TONY KELLY (Minister for Rural Affairs, Minister for Local Government, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Natural Resources (Lands)) [10.48 a.m.]: I move:

    That this bill be now read a second time.

    I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

    Leave granted.

    I am pleased to introduce the Firearms Amendment (Prohibited Pistols) Bill 2003.

    This Bill will amend the Firearms Act 1996, the Firearms (General) Regulation 1997, and the prohibited weapons legislation to implement the Prime Minister's Handgun Controls.

    This agreement occurred at the Council of Australian Governments on 2 December 2002.

    The Firearms Amendment (Prohibited Pistols) Bill 2003 fully implements the National Agreement, which places a range of restrictions on handgun target shooters.

    These include restricting the handguns which can be used for target shooting to:

    • a maximum of.38" calibre;
    • semi-automatic handguns with a barrel length of 120mm or more; and
    • revolvers and single shot handguns with a barrel length of 100mm or more.

    Sections 4C and 8 of the bill create this new class of prohibited pistol, with section 58(2) making it an offence with a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment to unlawfully possess a prohibited pistol barrel.

    However, in line with the COAG agreement, there will be two limited classes of person who may access a prohibited pistol.

    Section 16B provides for persons participating in International Shooting Sport Federation events, which count as Olympic and Commonwealth Games qualifiers, to access highly specialised target pistols which fail to meet the new barrel restrictions.

    The COAG agreed to this restricted use on the grounds that these highly specialised target pistols are large, visually distinctive and not readily concealable due to their overall size.

    In addition, Schedule 2, clause 59A amends the Firearms (General) Regulation 1997 to allow the issue of a Commissioner's Permit for pistols with a calibre of more than.38 inch (but not more than.45 inch) which are used in an approved shooting competition.

    In line with the COAG Agreement, these competitions have yet to be agreed nationally.

    At this stage the Prime Minister is of the view that metallic silhouette and single (or western) action events should be the only events to be accredited to use.45 calibre handgun.

    Representatives of the NSW handgun target shooters requested that the sport, International Practical Shooting Competition be accredited to use the.45 calibre.

    The Premier wrote to the Prime Minister requesting that he consider including this as an accredited sport.

    The Prime Minister has responded that he only supports metallic silhouette, and single action shooting as accredited events.

    Under the National Agreement, pistol magazines with a capacity of above 10 shots will also be banned.

    Section 51E of the bill implements this by making it an offence to possess or use a pistol with such a magazine in it.

    This offence will attract a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

    The National Agreement also includes provision for a prohibited pistol buyback.

    Section 78 of the bill provides the framework for this buyback.

    The cost of the buyback will firstly be funded from the $15million remaining from the 1996 buyback, and then shared on a two-thirds, one-third basis between the Commonwealth and NSW.

    As the finer details of the compensation package have yet to be agreed with the Commonwealth, section 78A contains general regulation making powers in relation to compensation on items to be the subject of compensation - such as parts and accessories.
    In line with the National Agreement, the bill also contains:

    • provisions for firearm collectors in relation to the collection of pistols manufactured after 1946;

    • a new probationary pistol licence scheme which limits ownership of pistols completely in the first 6 months, and provides for limited ownership in the second 6 months;

    • a provision allowing the Commissioner to revoke a licence where negligence or fraud on the part of the licensee has caused a firearm to be lost or stolen; and

    • a "no questions asked" amnesty for the surrender, without compensation, of illegal firearms to police.

    Also as part of the buyback the Prime Minister has agreed that where a handgun owner wishes to surrender their target shooting licence then they can be compensated for both his prohibited and non-prohibited handguns.

    Both the buyback and the illegal firearm amnesty will commence on 1 October 2003 in NSW, although some other jurisdictions will be commencing from 1 July.

    Initially it was proposed that the new provisions would commence on 1 July.

    However, the recent NSW election and consequent caretaker conventions delayed important policy decisions and certain administrative arrangements could not be put in place in this timeframe.

    In addition, certain details of the agreement are still being finalised between the states and the Commonwealth. For example the list of compensation payments is still to be completed.

    The result is that a 1 October commencement date is more feasible for NSW Police.

    It is intended that the handgun buyback and the amnesty for surrender of illegal firearms will run for 6 months - from 1 October 2003 to 31 March 2004.

    The Bill was developed following consultation with:

    • The Coalition for Gun Control; and

    • Members of the Firearm Licence Holders' Working Group.

    This Group consists of representatives from a range of shooting disciplines and associations, including the Amateur Pistol Association, the Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia, and the Firearms Dealers Association - in addition to representatives from rural and farming groups such as the State Council of the Rural Lands Protection Board and NSW Farmers'.

    Although it cannot be said that the Working Group supports COAG's decision to restrict access to certain handguns, members of the Group have nevertheless generously contributed their comments as part of the Bill's final drafting process.

    Also section 82A allows that an executor or administrator of an estate does not commit an offence in respect of the possession of the deceased firearm if they are retaining the firearm for the purposes of disposing it lawfully.

    Also this section creates a requirement that an executor or administrator must notify the Commissioner for Police of the death of the person who possessed the firearm as soon as practicable after the death.

    This will assist the Firearms Registry with ensuring that firearms of the deceased are not in the community illegally.

    The administrative procedures for the buyback are being developed by NSW Police.

    NSW Police are establishing 3 mobile handgun buyback vans to collect guns and issuing compensation.

    It is proposed that 2 vans will visit pistol clubs in metropolitan and regional centres, whilst the third processes stock held by Firearm Dealers.

    The schedules of the vans will be posted on the NSW Police Website.

    Letters will also be sent to handgun licence holders before a van visits their area to advise of the location and opening times.

    Handguns surrendered under the buyback will be crushed and disabled at the van, before being transported via secure courier to Police Weapons Disposal.

    Strict safety and accountability measures will be in place at each buyback van.

    All handguns will be examined to determine whether they fall within the new prohibited class.

    If this is the case, the owner will need to establish he or she falls within the limited class of persons able to access the prohibited pistol in order to retain it.

    Operators in the van will enter customer details into the computer and customers will be issued with a cheque on the spot for surrendered handguns and accessories which are listed on the National Compensation List.

    The List has yet to be completed and agreed nationally, but will be placed on the NSW Police Website when it is finalised.

    Customers owning non-prohibited pistols will be given a blue identification 'Tag' to reassure them that the firearm is legal.

    A new firearms registration certificate will be sent out by mail at a later date.

    If there is a dispute as to the amount of compensation which should be paid for a handgun, because of modifications made to it or because it is not on the National Compensation List, this can be referred to an independent valuation panel.

    If a gun is identified as an historic firearm, it will not be destroyed but will be recorded by Police as reserved for independent assessment and referral to a relevant museum.

    In addition to internal Police audit procedures, the Buyback process will be independently audited to ensure its integrity.

    The Mobile buyback vans will be supported by a Website to answer questions from gun owners about the terms of the buyback and the amount of compensation to be paid.

    Persons without access to the website will have access to a 1300 Buyback Hotline for further information.

    NSW Police will be writing to all handgun licence holders to advise them of these details.

    The changes in the Handgun Control Agreement will significantly strengthen the controls over access to handguns.

    This Bill fully implements the National Agreement.

    I commend the Bill to the House.

    The Hon. DAVID CLARKE [10.48 a.m.]: The issue of rising levels of crime and violence in New South Wales and the steps needed to address the problem are of great concern to the Opposition. It is the paramount duty of any Government, and certainly the New South Wales Government, to provide a safe environment in which people can go about their daily lives in the knowledge that they and their property are safe. Gun crime in New South Wales has reached almost uncontrolled proportions. A headline in the Daily Telegraph of 28 May this year stated "Every second day somebody is shot in Sydney". Crimes of violence, particularly gun crime, are causing great concern and alarm in the Opposition. The Firearms Amendment (Prohibited Pistols) Bill seeks to amend a number of Acts and regulations to implement resolutions agreed by the Australasian Police Ministers Council at a special meeting on handguns held on 28 November last year and endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments on 6 December. The overview of the bill states:

    The object of this bill is to reduce the number of pistols in the community and to strengthen controls over access to pistols that are used for the purposes of sport/target shooting. In particular, the Bill:

    (a) restricts the kinds of pistols that may lawfully be used for the purposes of sporting target shooting, and

    (b) imposes additional requirements in relation to sport/target pistol shooters (including the introduction of probationary pistol licences for new licensees), and

    (c) prohibits sport/target pistol shooters from using or possessing pistols fitted with magazines that have a capacity of more than 10 rounds, and

    (d) imposes additional requirements in relation to pistol collectors, and

    (e) makes provision for a compensation scheme in respect of pistols that licensed sport/target pistol shooters and pistol collectors are compelled to surrender, and

    (f) adds pistol magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds to the list of prohibited weapons in the Weapons Prohibition Act 1988, and

    (g) makes a number of other miscellaneous amendments to the Firearms Act 1966 and the Firearms (General) Regulation 1977.

    The buyback of prohibited pistols provided for in proposed section 78 is to be funded from the $15 million remaining from the 1996 buyback scheme. The balance will be provided by the Commonwealth, which will provide two-thirds, and the State Government, which will provide one-third. There will be a no-questions-asked amnesty for the surrender without compensation of illegal firearms. Although the Council of Australian Governments agreed that a buyback period of six months would commence on 1 July 2003, that has been delayed until 1 October in New South Wales because of the State Government's inability to be ready for the July date. It is proposed that the buyback scheme will be facilitated by three mobile vans to collect the guns and issue compensation. Two of those vans will visit pistol clubs, and the third will deal with firearm dealers. The buyback process will be scrutinised by an independent audit.

    The bill has been developed following a period of consultation with the Coalition for Gun Control and the Firearms Licence Holders Working Group, a group that represents a number of shooters organisations, including the Amateur Pistol Association, the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia and the Firearm Dealers Association. The consultation also involved a number of other interested groups, including rural and farming bodies. The Opposition has conducted its own consultations with a number of individuals and organisations, including the New South Wales Sporting Shooters Association and the Coalition for Gun Control, both of whom have raised grave concerns about aspects of the legislation and asked a number of specific questions about the bill's operation and effect. Among the many issues raised, the Coalition for Gun Control expressed detailed concerns about the criteria used to distinguish between which guns are to be banned and which are not. What is the response of the Minister for Police?

    The Coalition for Gun Control claims that the military-style handguns used in the Monash and Dunblane shootings will not be affected by the bill. What does the Minister have to say about that? Clearly, the Coaltion for Gun Control has grave concerns about the bill, and that is why, in a media release issued by that organisation dated 17 June this year, it forecast that the bill will be "the most unworkable and chaotic bill of all time". Can the Minister assure us that the bill will not be chaotic and unworkable? Is the Coalition for Gun Control alarmist, or has it hit the nail on the head?

    The Sporting Shooters Association has a different point of view. The association has expressed the concern that law-abiding and responsible members of the community will be punished for activities perpetrated by the criminal element of our society. Can the Minister allay the association's concerns? The Sporting Shooters Association has proposed a series of amendments. What does the Minister say about the proposals contained in those amendments? The association proposes, for example, that new section 4C (2) in item [2] of schedule 1 should be substantially amended. The association believes that the amendments proposed in item [5] place an unnecessary burden on lawful firearm owners and volunteer organisations.

    The Sporting Shooters Association believes that changes proposed in item [6] are unclear, and that subsection (3) of proposed section 16 should make clear that subsection (2) does not apply to a person who has previously held a category H licence, other than a probationary pistol license, in any jurisdiction in Australia. The association maintains that there are no exemptions for security industry employment, or for security industry accreditation training where prohibited pistols are understood to be still authorised. The association has put forward arguments as to why amendments should be made to items [7], [13], [14], [20] and [21]. These are just some of the concerns of sporting shooters.

    Concern has been expressed as to whether the three vans involved in the buyback process will be sufficient to complete the task within the specified time. Are adequate precautions being put in place for the protection of these vans and the drivers? Any consultation process between the Minister and interested bodies—if it is to be anything other than a sham—needs to involve the Minister for Police fully responding to legitimate questions and concerns raised. Has the Minister answered the concerns raised? If not, why not? People with different perspectives on the bill have expressed their concerns to Opposition members. I should like to refer to the concerns of just two of them—constituents of the capable, hardworking and community-focused member for Hornsby, Judy Hopwood, who referred her constituents' concerns to me. Max Bolton of the Hornsby Rifle Range said:

    In relation to the first paragraph of the bill, it would appear that Club Members will not know until the actual buy-back begins, as to which sporting implements will be illegal in the eyes of the Government.

    We support the proposed new probationary pistol licence as my Club was thinking that way … we will probably lose prospective members because of the six month wait instead of three months, but we have Club implements that we can use in the interim.

    What guarantee will the Club member have, that the sporting implements that he purchases will be legal in the eyes of the Government? The packaging should then state "approved by the NSW Government for use by Pistol Club Members".

    David Honner said:

    This current legislation is a political reaction to pressure from the public which (rightly), demands that something be done about the misuse of firearms and I think that everybody (including firearms users), would agree that the misuse of firearms must be controlled.

    I am also concerned reading the proposal that the details are not finalised so that the House will most likely pass the bill then work out the fine print which may result in a different bill than that which passed.

    These are legitimate concerns. One issue that will not be solved by this bill is the ever-continuing upsurge in crimes involving the use of illegal firearms. In fact, the problem is getting to epidemic proportions. We need more action by the Government in collecting guns that are already illegal but are still being used to kill and maim law-abiding citizens. Since the State election only three months ago the upsurge in gun-related crime—much of it involving illegal weapons—has continued at an ever-increasing and unabated pace.

    I am grateful to Peter Debnam, the shadow Minister for Police, who has compiled a partial list of such gun-related crime over the past few weeks to demonstrate what a horrendous picture it is. On 29 March this year there was a drive-by shooting at Tregear, on 5 April an armed hold-up at Ingleburn, on 12 April an armed robbery at Ingleburn, on 13 April a shooting at Rosemeadow, on 15 April an armed robbery at Lightning Ridge, on 19 April another armed robbery at Ingleburn, on 27 April a drive-by shooting at Moorebank, on 28 April an armed robbery at Forestville, on 29 April a murder-suicide at Newcastle, and also on 29 April a shooting at Toongabbie.

    May was a very busy month for gun-related crime. An armed robbery occurred at North Sydney on the first day of that month, followed two days later by the discovery at Rozelle of a victim who had been shot dead. On the same day there was an armed robbery at Tuncurry. On 8 May there was a shooting murder at Telopea, on 10 May there was a drive-by shooting at Bonnyrigg, and a day later there was a shooting at Narwee. On 12 May it was the turn of the people of Cabramatta and Auburn, with drive-by shootings in both those suburbs.

    On 16 May there was a shooting at Glebe, and on 19 May an armed robbery at Darlinghurst and a shooting at Bradbury. 21 May was a busy day, with a shooting at Yennora, a shooting at Kemps Creek and an armed robbery at Macquarie Fields. Four days later Surry Hills was an unwilling host to an armed robbery, as was Leichhardt. I could continue with a recital of gun crime incidents, and on a future occasion I certainly will do so. We must remember that this is only a partial list for the period covered. In the meantime, what about the men, women and children residing in the suburbs I have referred to? I ask: Is any part of this State safe from the spreading scourge of crime arising from guns, particularly unlicensed guns? Clearly, the answer is no. The Director of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, told a Federal parliamentary committee on 9 October last year:

    New South Wales has suffered the most—we have had more than a doubling of robberies between 1993 and 2001.

    Don Weatherburn went on to point out that the trend in recorded shootings in New South Wales is a problem that is currently pretty much unique to New South Wales. He said, "Robbery is our stand-out problem." According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, since 1995 armed robbery in New South Wales has increased by 58 per cent, assaults have increased by 111 per cent, and attempted murders have increased by 167 per cent—all crime areas involving a substantial degree of gun use and, it goes without saying, illegal gun use. The incidence of armed robbery is 78 per cent higher in New South Wales than in Victoria; the incidence of assaults is 228 per cent higher, and the incidence of attempted murders is 100 per cent higher.

    A recent bank robbery survey shows that last year New South Wales suffered 76 per cent of all bank robberies that occurred in Australia. A report of the Australian Institute of Criminology of May 2000 found that since 1997 licensed firearm owners were not responsible for more than 90 per cent of firearm-related homicides. More than 90 per cent of the firearms used to commit homicides were not registered and their owners not licensed. The Opposition believes that the people of New South Wales deserve to be better protected from gun-related crime.

    Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.