Mr GOODENOUGH (Moore) (18:56): I move that this House:
- (1) notes that while Australia has some of the strongest firearm controls in the world, illicit firearms continue to remain a threat to community safety;
- (2) acknowledges that the Government has:
- (a) introduced legislation which doubles the maximum penalties for firearms trafficking offences, including mandatory minimum sentences of five years imprisonment;
- (b) invested:
- (i) $88 million to increase screening and examination of international mail, air and sea cargo to detect illicit firearms and firearms parts at our borders; and
- (ii) $116 million in the National Anti-Gangs Squad which has been successful in getting illegal guns off our streets; and
- (c) provided an additional $25.4 million to fund the expansion of the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP’s) National Forensics Rapid Lab to enhance the AFP’s capacity to detect and seize illegal firearms and target the criminal syndicates that peddle them;
- (3) notes that the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens have opposed mandatory minimum sentences for illegal firearms trafficking; and
- (4) calls on Members to support tougher sentences for illegal firearms trafficking, including the need for mandatory minimum sentences.
The coalition government introduced the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2015, which sought to double the maximum penalties for firearms trafficking offences, including mandatory minimum sentences of five years imprisonment. However, Labor and the Greens opposed imposing mandatory minimum sentences for illegal firearms trafficking.
Given that 90 per cent of firearm-related crimes are committed with unlicensed firearms, the focus of law enforcement should be directed at clamping down on the estimated 260,000 illegal firearms in Australia.
Legitimate shooters support tough legislation to prevent illegal firearms from being brought into the country.
From the outset, I should declare that I am a life-time shooting enthusiast who has participated in a range of competitive shooting sports—pistol, rifle and shotgun—and I have been hunting for more than 30 years. I am a life member of both the National Rifle Association and the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia. In addition, I am one of the founding members of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting along with Senator Bridget McKenzie.
Firearms have the potential to be used for both good and bad purposes. I am strongly in support of tougher sentences for illegal firearms trafficking, including the need for mandatory minimum sentences, which will be effective in combating the illegitimate use of firearms whilst promoting and protecting the rights and liberties of lawful, legitimate users of firearms.
There are currently more than 2.7 million registered firearms in Australia. Firearms, most certainly, have a legitimate place in our society. They are used at clubs and in Olympic and Commonwealth Games sports. They are an essential part of agriculture for controlling feral pests. Firearms are used to provide food through hunting and they are used for recreational shooting. They are essential for law enforcement, defence and security. And historic firearm collections form part of our cultural and military heritage.
It is the misuse of firearms for criminal purposes which this legislation seeks to curtail. There is no good reason for illegal firearms to enter Australia’s borders as their misuse will impact adversely on the legitimate use of firearms through negative public perception. Unfortunately, high-profile firearm incidents will continue to elevate firearm-related crime to the forefront of public awareness, media headlines and political agendas.
Firearms trafficking is generally defined in the 2001 United Nations Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition as the unauthorised ‘import, export, acquisition, sale, delivery, movement or transfer of firearms, their parts and components and ammunition’ across internal or state borders.
A recent report from the Australian Crime Commission estimated that there are more than 250,000 unlicensed long arms and 10,000 unlicensed handguns in Australia. The ACC defines the criminal tracking of firearms as the movement of illegally owned, modified or manufactured firearms between market suppliers and organised crime. Criminals regularly use illicit firearms to protect their area of criminal operation, for use in other criminal activities such as extortion, to settle inter-gang disputes and in the collection of outstanding debts and drug payments. The ACC conservatively estimates that serious and organised crime costs Australia at least $15 billion each year.
Stronger penalties are required to adequately reflect the serious nature and consequences of supplying firearms and firearm parts to the illicit market. Strong penalties will act as a strong deterrent and a disincentive to people seeking to illegally import firearms and their parts into Australia. By increasing the maximum penalty for these Commonwealth firearms offences, it will put the Commonwealth in step with other jurisdictions and their maximum penalties for firearm-trafficking offences.
The Australian Institute of Criminology released a report in 2012 titled Firearm trafficking and serious organised crime gangs which indicated that the main entry points for firearms entering Australia were via parcel post, contained in passenger luggage through ports and airports, and through sea cargo and air cargo. Under the previous Labor government, less than 10 per cent of air cargo and less than five per cent of sea cargo were inspected upon entry into Australia’s borders. Since being elected, the coalition government have invested $88 million to increase the screening and examination of international mail, air cargo and sea cargo. The funding boost provides our agencies with more resources to detect and intercept illicit firearms and parts.
The magnitude of the task of monitoring our borders on a vast geographical scale defies comprehension. We have a sparsely populated continent with a significant number of remote towns where only basic port and airport facilities exist without the advanced security found in capital cities. The vast Australian continent covers an area of more than 7.6 million square kilometres, with a total coastline length of 35,876 kilometres and some 758 remote estuaries around the country in which vessels may land.
Detecting illegal weapons can be described as like finding a needle in a haystack. In February 2015 the coalition government closed the loophole which allowed criminals to avoid prosecution for trafficking firearm parts into Australia. Without these amendments, criminals could evade trafficking offences and penalties by simply dismantling firearms and trafficking the parts separately. According to an Australian Crime Commission report titled Organised crime in Australia 2015, the online purchasing of illicit firearms is an emerging threat. The increased use of internet and darknet websites is likely to drive an increase in firearm importation and pose a threat to border security. Websites such as Black Market Reloaded and Agora have enabled the trade—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 19:03 to 19:26
Mr GOODENOUGH: These websites have enabled the trade in illicit firearms to operate freely, affording anonymity and offering secure online payment systems. The Armory is an example of a website specifically designed to facilitate the trading of firearms, components and ammunition.
In Australia, the sale and supply of firearms to the illicit market is typically carried out by organised crime groups but also individual lower level criminals driving the demand for illicit firearms. There are direct links between firearms trafficking and other serious crimes, such as drive-by shootings. Criminal use of firearms includes the distribution and supply of drugs, armed robbery, committing acts of violence, impeding law enforcement, standover tactics, intimidation and threats against rival groups.
The coalition government established the National Anti-Gangs Squad in 2013 and resourced it with $116 million in funding to target outlaw motorcycle gangs, particularly their role in firearms trafficking. Since its establishment, more than 5,600 illegal firearms have been seized in cooperation with the states. The coalition government has allocated $25.4 million to fund the expansion of the Australian Federal Police’s National Forensics Rapid Lab to enhance the AFP’s capacity to detect and seize illegal firearms and target the criminal syndicates that smuggle them.
I advocate for firearms reform which places greater emphasis on licensing the firearms owner, with more stringent background checks, safety training and in-person interviews. This would be coupled with a comprehensive firearm registration system which registered individual firearms to suitably licensed owners for accountability and traceability. At present, too much focus is placed on the technical attributes of the firearms themselves and insufficient focus on the suitability of the owner.
In summary, I am strongly in support of tougher sentences for illegal firearms trafficking, including the need for mandatory minimum sentences. It is true to say that licensed firearm owners in the Australian shooting community overwhelmingly support a crackdown on illegal firearms. There is no place in the community for illegally imported firearms to be in the possession of criminal elements which are very likely to misuse the firearms to commit crimes. Such adverse publicity affects the public perception of lawful firearms owners and impinges upon their freedoms.