I speak in debate on the Firearms and Weapons Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. The bill makes changes to the Firearms Act 1996 and the Weapons Prohibition Act 1998. In many respects, the bill introduces changes agreed to in the updated National Firearms Agreement, which emerged from the joint Commonwealth-New South Wales review following the Martin Place siege. The bill also aims to provide a legislative framework to deal with the importation of lever-action shotguns, including the Adler A110 series. Many of the changes outlined in the bill are agreed updates to existing arrangements, and I welcome a lot of them. For example, I welcome that aspect of the regulation that will facilitate residents of New South Wales participating in the three-month national firearms amnesty, which starts on 1 July 2017. This will enable those with prohibited firearms to register or surrender them.
However, in some aspects the bill goes beyond the national agreement and undermines the comprehensive gun controls won by the New South Wales community over many decades. Some aspects are a nod to the noisy and more extremist wings of the pro-gun lobby that peddle misinformation and conspiracy theories to erode community safety. What is clear is that the Australian community will not accept weaker gun laws. The strict controls put in place following the horrific events at Port Arthur in April 1996 are something of which most Australians are immensely proud. When we look overseas to the horrific acts in Brussels, Paris and London—or to the seemingly daily news of gun crimes in the United States—what gives us some comfort is the knowledge that here at home we have some of the strongest gun laws around the globe. Even when our confidence is rattled by events like the Martin Place siege or the recent events in Melbourne, we know that we are a nation united against violent gun crime.
We are a nation that believes the process of owning a gun should be rigorous, onerous and probing. We believe gun ownership should be the exception, not the norm. We believe those who legally own weapons should be subject to stringent controls and restrictions and that there must be strong penalties for failing to protect public safety. Those are principles that law-abiding gun owners agree with. They are unchangeable principles that must serve as the basis for any reasoned examination of gun laws in this State.
As we know, those principles were forged in the wake of the terrible crime at Port Arthur in April 1996, when 35 people were killed and a further 23 injured in Australia's most deadly mass shooting. As then Prime Minister John Howard knew, there was no better response to those horrific events than to harness the Australian community's collective and profound sense of mourning and to take decisive action to ensure it could never happen again. Those momentous reforms were backed by Labor and by each and every State and Territory. As a result of that bipartisanship, the principles have stood the test of time.
Since the national gun buyback, there has been a significant drop in firearm homicide rates and rates of suicide by firearm. But we cannot be complacent: We cannot assume protections only to have them whittled away in secret backroom deals. I appreciate that there are law-abiding firearm owners across New South Wales who share a deep concern for public safety and wish to engage in a rational debate about balancing the needs of farmers and shooters with gun control. But there are also some in our community who seek to undermine the progress we have made. They peddle misinformation and, to be frank, insulting and ridiculous conspiracy theories, arguing that Port Arthur was a Government-sanctioned act of terror to manipulate the people into accepting stricter gun control. It is one thing to chance upon this offensive nonsense on the internet; it is another thing entirely to hear it spouted by failed One Nation candidates.
These conspiracy theories embody a dark underbelly of a small but extreme pro-gun lobby in Australia. They should serve as a reminder to us all that each and every day we must strive in this place for balanced, reasoned debate that truly serves the people of New South Wales. That debate is best served through bipartisanship and an approach rooted in evidence and common sense. Common sense tells us that the correct storage of guns is paramount for public safety, yet this bill relaxes provisions around the seizure of weapons found to have been stored improperly, giving police greater discretion as to whether licensees have their guns seized for storing weapons incorrectly. This provision has raised concerns for some of my constituents, and for good reason. In the United States of America, where storage laws are more lax, at least 265 children under the age of 18 picked up a firearm and accidentally shot themselves or someone else in 2015 alone.
Closer to home, in May 2016 a three-year-old girl in Ballina accidentally shot herself with a replica pistol that was not stored properly. There is also the issue of gun theft. As Gun Control Australia reports, more than 6,000 guns were stolen in Australia over a two-year period between 2013 and 2015. In New South Wales the vast majority of these thefts are of rifles and guns taken from people's homes, most of which are never recovered. Common sense says that our gun laws need to evolve in lock step with advances in gun technology. We know that existing Acts do not deal adequately with the ready expansion of lever-action shotguns like the Adler or the lever-action shotgun magazine extension market. Gun Control Australia describes these weapons as:
… slick, synthetic firearms with pistol grips, side saddles for extra ammunition and internal and detachable magazines.
Twenty models have been introduced in Australia in the past two years. Lever-action shotguns have been placed in the category A grouping of firearms. The bill moves those with a magazine of no more than five rounds into category B, which is only marginally more restrictive than the current categorisation. Rightly, it moves lever-action shotguns with more than five rounds to category D, and I welcome that. The newer models of these weapons can be easily modified to extend the firearm capability to eight, 10 or 12 shots.
As Gun Control Australia notes, the weapon used by Man Haron Monis in the Sydney Lindt cafe siege was less powerful and had less capability than the Adler A110, yet is more highly restricted. Similarly, there are reports of magazine extensions being imported freely to New South Wales from interstate with very little regulation. We must act to adequately restrict the Adler A110 and similar firearms by moving those with fewer than five rounds to category C and prohibiting magazine extensions for any firearm. Common sense says that primary producers do not need to own three category D weapons. However, the bill allows it and my constituents have raised significant concerns about that. The Government has failed to explain why the limit has been increased. It has failed to properly explain the circumstances in which a primary producer would require three weapons with this capability when professional, licensed vermin controllers could be employed to manage these pests.
Similarly, common sense says that the grandfather provisions in the bill are too generous and, again, raise concerns about risks. The bill allows for licence holders with existing lever-action shotguns in category A or category B groupings that are now reclassified into category D to retain those firearms. I believe this leaves an unacceptable number of lever-action shotguns in the community. Given the lack of regulation around magazine extensions, it is conceivable that some licensees could hold a number of lever-action shotguns—adjusted to up to 12 rounds—and then possibly own up to three more. Lastly, common sense says that we need a system of recording who buys ammunition and where that ammunition goes. The bill attempts to wind back regulation around the purchase and the use of ammunition in the name of cutting red tape. The bill abolishes the requirement for licence holders to provide an address when purchasing ammunition. Given there is no limit on how much ammunition can be purchased in New South Wales, it is clear that anything we can do to prevent or, at a minimum, trace gun owners building arsenals of ammunition is a good thing.
One of the details of the Port Arthur massacre that has always stood out to me is the fact that Martin Bryant amassed a significant cache of ammunition before the massacre and even told a salesperson he needed an easily portable sports bag that would carry large amounts of ammunition. Common sense reminds us that tracking ammunition is just as important as tracking guns. It is important to remind ourselves that bipartisanship is vital to delivering strong and legitimate reform that will stand the test of time. As we work across the Parliament in the interests of the people of New South Wales, we can achieve remarkable and powerful things. I have concerns about this legislation and want to see far stronger controls put in place to deliver the protections that our community needs and deserves. The Australian people are right to accept nothing less.