FIREARMS AMENDMENT (AMMUNITION CONTROL) BILL 2012
Debate resumed from 10 May 2012.
Mr BRUCE NOTLEY-SMITH
(Coogee) [4.03 p.m.]: I support the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012, which will amend the Firearms Act 1996 to implement a number of reforms to strengthen the regulation of the sale of firearms ammunition in New South Wales. The first object of the bill is to prevent the sale of ammunition by a licensed firearms dealer to a shooter unless the purchaser is a registered owner of, or has a permit to acquire, a firearm that uses that ammunition. The amendment will further strengthen the current requirement that the purchaser must hold a category of licence or permit for a firearm that uses the ammunition. The second object of the bill is to require licensed firearms dealers to keep records of the sale of ammunition.
Whilst dealers currently must keep records of transactions that involve the sale of firearms and firearms parts, until now no such records have been required to be kept for the sale of ammunition. I find it astonishing that a person can buy ammunition without having to produce any evidence that it is for a firearm that the person owns or has permission to use. Beyond any documents produced in the commercial activities of a dealer, there is currently no way of officially examining any dealer transactions in relation to ammunition. That is unacceptable and that is the rationale for this bill. The number of shootings in Sydney has increased over a number of years and we know that many of those shootings involve organised crime.
If we are going to crack down on organised crime we have to ensure that criminals do not get their hands on ammunition. The measures contained in this bill will restrict the sale of ammunition by dealers to individuals who own a firearm that uses that specific category of ammunition, and firearms dealers will be required to record transactions of the sale of ammunition. They must produce those records when requested to do so by police. The amendments proposed in the bill will further restrict the potential for firearms ammunition to come into the hands of criminals, such as those involved in shootings in Sydney. Police will be able to access the records of ammunition sales held by dealers and that will assist in the course of their investigations.
These important measures will go a long way to enhancing the controls and improving the tools currently available to police in tackling crime involving firearms. The National Firearms Agreement 1996 stipulated that all Australian jurisdictions legislate to allow the sale of ammunition only for those firearms for which the purchaser is licensed and, in addition, that on the purchase of ammunition the relevant licence must be produced. A person will have to produce a licence to show that he or she is a licensed firearm user before that person can purchase ammunition. That has not been a requirement in this State until now.
Firearms licences in New South Wales only give information on the category of the licence held. By checking only the licence, firearms dealers have no way of confirming whether the person is purchasing ammunition for a firearm that person owns. This bill will amend the Firearms Act 1996 so that upon the sale and purchase of ammunition from a licensed firearms dealer the purchaser must hold and must produce a licence and a permit or notice of a registration of the firearm that uses that particular ammunition. This will help reduce the proliferation of ammunition into the hands of criminals by ensuring that the purchaser of ammunition is licensed to use a category of firearm for which the ammunition is specified and is also the owner of that firearm.
We know that about one in five firearms licensees do not own a firearm. They generally use their licence through registered or recognised rifle and pistol shooting clubs. To ensure that these individuals are not disadvantaged, the bill provides an exemption for club armourers—who are a class of firearms dealers—to sell ammunition to these licensed individuals who are members of the respective club for use in a firearm registered to that club. One may think that these are onerous measures for licensed gun owners, but it is essential to ensure that ammunition does not fall into criminal hands. I believe that the new requirements are a minor inconvenience for firearm holders when compared to the risk posed to community safety without such provisions.
It is also important that firearms dealers will be required to furnish to police any other information held by the dealer in respect to any ammunition purchased or sold by the dealer. These new provisions in the Act will be of great assistance to the police in their investigations. It may provide the evidence that is needed to bring a criminal before the court. To ensure that there is adequate lead time, particularly for the NSW Police Force to develop the necessary materials and create the forms for the register, and to ensure that dealers have enough notification, the bill provides that the Act will commence upon proclamation. This bill will result in a more stringent firearms regulatory environment and will ensure that our streets are safer. [Time expired
Ms TANIA MIHAILUK
(Bankstown) [4.13 p.m.]: I note at the outset that the Opposition supports the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012 but that it has some reservations about its efficacy. The bill is a symptom of a Government that is trying desperately to be seen to be fixing a problem without actually fixing it. As the shadow Minister for Police and Emergency Services said, the central flaw of this legislation is that once the ammunition leaves the shop door the Government has no way of tracking it. The bill does little to counter the secondary market of ammunition purchased legally but sold on the black market. Nor does this bill address the ongoing illegal importation or illegal local manufacturing of ammunition. It is for these reasons that the Opposition doubts that the bill will be effective.
As I have advised the House previously, the Opposition remains strongly supportive of the NSW Police Force and is committed to providing our police with the resources and the legislation they need to tackle crime. The Opposition recognises that controlling ammunition is a legitimate way of controlling gun crime. However, Opposition members fear that this bill may be insufficient to tackle the ongoing problem of gun crime in Sydney. I now turn to the bill. New section 45A requires licensed firearms dealers to keep a record of all sales and purchases of ammunition. I put to the Government that this proposal may simply encourage would-be criminals to purchase ammunition from unlicensed firearms dealers. If that happens, this proposal may have zero net effect on gun crime but impose an additional regulatory burden on honest small businesses.
Item  of schedule 1 to the bill will also require licensed firearm dealers to provide records to the police. This provision is aimed at increasing the transparency of the industry. The fine for non-compliance under section new 45A is 20 penalty units. I have asked the Government to consider whether this might be appropriate for those instances where non-compliance is linked to criminal activity, as opposed to where non-compliance might be an honest mistake. I put to the Government that 20 penalty units might be insufficient to discourage illegal behaviour. Item  of schedule 1 ensures that licensed firearms dealers can only sell ammunition to a purchaser who is licensed for a firearm that requires that ammunition.
The bill was considered by the Legislation Review Committee and included in Legislation Review Digest No. 2 for 2012, which was tabled in this place in February. The committee noted that the provisions within the bill that required individuals to provide personal details when purchasing goods may trespass on a person's right to privacy. However, the committee concluded that in the circumstances the public benefit in providing assistance to police to investigate criminal behaviour overrides this interest. The committee raised a similar concern about the provision to empower police to obtain records without the need to show reasonable cause.
However, given that the bill was designed to assist police in investigating and preventing criminal behaviour that endangers the public, the committee makes no further comment. I reiterate that the Opposition recognises that controlling ammunition is a legitimate way of controlling gun crime, but that in reality the bill will not tackle the ongoing problem of gun crime in Sydney. I have no doubt that Opposition members are not the only ones in this place who have concerns. I am sure members of The Nationals, including members representing the electorates of Monaro and Murray-Darling, also have concerns. Some of their constituents may also raise concerns with them, but at this stage I commend the bill to the House.
Mrs LESLIE WILLIAMS
(Port Macquarie) [4.17 p.m.]: As has already been stated in this House, the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012 has been introduced to allow for more stringent measures surrounding the purchase of ammunition, which is intended to assist police to tackle organised and other gun-related crime. New South Wales police have said that these measures will provide them with a solid base for collecting evidence about the transfer of ammunition between parties in cases in which no formal records have existed. Just about every day we read in the newspapers or see on our television screens members of our community, civic leaders and those opposite cry out for something to be done about gun-related crime in the community.
Trying to target organised criminals with these much tighter controls on access to ammunition is one way the police believe they can make a difference and ultimately make our communities safer. As legislators it is our responsibility to support all our law enforcement agencies, including our hardworking police, in their endeavours to keep our communities safe and, in particular, address gun-related crime. Unfortunately, some groups of law-abiding citizens in our community have been caught in the crossfire, so to speak. Primary producers and sporting shooters are the two groups that have vigorously expressed to me their concerns and highlighted how they will be disadvantaged as a result of the unintentional consequences of the legislation.
I acknowledge that the Minister for Police and Emergency Services in the other place tabled a draft regulation that addresses some of the concerns of primary producers. In his second reading speech the Minister noted that the concerns, which were highlighted by his Nationals colleagues on behalf of the farmers and primary producers they represent, have been listened to and have been addressed subsequently in the regulations. However I have spoken to members of a number of sporting shooters groups in my electorate and I certainly understand the legitimate concerns they have raised. I have spoken to many of these members about the details of the bill. In most cases they are happy that we as a government are making it tougher for criminals, but they are not happy that they have been swept up in the issue. I will share some of the issues raised. The president of the Taree-Wingham Sporting Shooters Association states:
We are extremely concerned about the proposed bill and its probable negative implications.
It would seem unlikely that a person illegally in possession of an illegal firearm would be able to buy any ammunition for such a firearm from any business that is authorised to sell ammunition.
A firearm owner states:
In relation to the proposed ammunition changes, I find there are some very perplexing and worrisome problems that are going to surface that will do absolutely nothing to curb the drive by shootings in Sydney.
Again and again law abiding gun owners are penalised for the actions of the criminal few. Where are the statistics that show the majority of gun crimes are committed by licensed firearm owners?
Gun crime is largely committed by illegal firearm owners, changing the legislation regarding purchase of ammunition will have no impact on this criminal element at all.
The Port Macquarie Small Bore Rifle Club states:
Although we recognise that some action must be taken to stop the recent spate of drive by shootings in Sydney, we see this legislation as nothing more than a knee jerk reaction.
The vast majority of shooters in this state are ordinary, law abiding men and women and the members of this club are no different. We take our sport very seriously and are fully aware of the responsibilities gun ownership entails.
At present the process of purchasing ammunition requires the dealer to record the shooters licence number, the type of ammunition and quantity. This legislation will now require the dealer to see proof that we own the firearm and to record the shooters address.
There is no valid reason for the dealer to record the address of someone purchasing ammunition as the information is already held at the Firearms Registry.
And, finally, a professional shooter states:
Currently the Firearms Act already limits firearm owners to purchasing ammunition for firearms they are licensed to use. The proposed bill is designed to limit firearm owners to only be able to purchase ammunition specifically for the firearm they own.
This is a ridiculous imposition that will surely have no impact on those who commit firearm related crime, as it has been previously demonstrated overwhelmingly that those criminals do not have firearm licenses or own registered firearms anyway.
They are examples of correspondence my office has received on this issue. As I said earlier I have personally contacted everyone who has contacted my office and who has raised concerns about the bill. Unfortunately, the problems are not generated by members of those groups, or by primary producers, or by professional shooters: They are generated by criminals, and that is who we need to stop. The Australian Crime Commission and Australian Institute of Criminology say that although firearms are acquired illegally through various means, the only way to acquire ammunition in Australia is through legitimate dealers. Let me make it very clear: We have listened to the issues and objections raised by these law-abiding citizens and we are doing everything possible to reduce the impact on them through the regulations. My Nationals colleagues have had full and frank discussions on this issue and, through the Hon. Rick Colless in the other place, we have worked closely with the Minister for Police and Emergency Services to address these concerns.
Issues concerning access to ammunition by sporting shooters and primary producers have been discussed by the newly created New South Wales Firearms Consultative Committee. The committee comprises representatives of many of the stakeholder groups who use firearms legally, as well as the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services, and the Shooters and Fishers Party. The committee has considered the issues, established how legislation affects legitimate firearm users and reported back with recommendations on the regulations. As I have explained to the concerned legal shooters who have contacted me, the legislation will not come into effect until regulations have been reviewed and adopted.
If all people played by the rules, we as a government would not have to be taking the actions set out in this bill, but in order to achieve a safer community, we need to do just that. As the Minister for Police and Emergency Services acknowledged in the other place, the objectives of the Firearms Act and indeed most firearms legislation stipulate that firearms' possession and use is a privilege that is conditional on the overriding need to ensure public safety. This is about making our streets safer, our homes safer and our communities safer. I reiterate to primary producers and sporting shooters in my electorate that their concerns have been listened to—by me as their local member, by my colleagues who include the Hon. Rick Colless and by the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services.
As a member of the Liberals-Nationals Government, I am confident that primary producers and sporting shooters in my electorate will continue to be listened to and that a majority of their concerns will be addressed through the regulations associated with the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012. In conclusion, I thank the Minister for listening to the concerns expressed by The Nationals, for acknowledging in his second reading speech in the other place the unintended impact of this legislation on law-abiding firearm owners and, finally, for taking positive steps to reach a resolution.
Mr GUY ZANGARI
(Fairfield) [4.24 p.m.]: I support the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012 because it aims to address the increasing spate of drive-by shootings and gun crime that has plagued the streets of western and south-western Sydney. The shootings that gathered momentum in the second part of 2011 have victimised the residents of my electorate of Fairfield. Since the O'Farrell Government came to office there have been more than 100 shootings in western and south-western Sydney. The shootings have taken place in the suburbs of Fairfield, Yennora and Guildford—suburbs that I represent in this House. The drive-by shootings and gun crime generally take place on local streets and in neighbourhoods. Bullets have been found in homes, local businesses and even inside the walls of a public school. Local residents have every right to feel afraid and let down by this Government over its failure to put an end to the gun crime.
I support this legislation because it attempts—I emphasise "attempts"—to address the gun crime epidemic in our community. I note in his second reading speech on this bill the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Hon. Michael Gallacher, made the point that the bill aims to provide additional support to our law enforcement agencies to tackle gun-related crime. However, I take issue with the Minister laying claim to this Government addressing the drive-by shooting epidemic in western Sydney in a strategic and proactive manner. It was not until February this year, when the number of drive-by shootings was fast approaching 50, that the Government realised that there was indeed a problem in western and south-western Sydney. By the forty-seventh shooting and after months of denial, the Government rushed the Crime (Criminal Organisations Control) Bill and the Crimes Amendment (Consorting and Organised Crime) Bill into the Parliament.
However, at the same time it is the same O'Farrell Government that by February 2012 presided over the loss of 14 uniformed officers from the Fairfield Local Area Command since September 2011. That begs the question: Has the O'Farrell Government been strategic and proactive in addressing the drive-by shooting epidemic or, as I suspect, is it busily implementing reactive policies because it has been caught sleeping on the job. I point also to the practical effect of this bill. It does not introduce a new instrument to tackle gun crime in New South Wales. Instead it will supplement existing laws that were introduced by the former Labor Government. The Firearms Act became law in 1996 under the stewardship of a former Labor Premier, Bob Carr. In his second reading speech, the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Hon. Michael Gallacher, summarised the Firearms Act 1996 as follows:
The current Firearms Act 1996 requires that a person must not sell or purchase ammunition for any firearm, unless the purchaser is a holder of a licence or permit for a firearm which takes that ammunition or the purchaser is authorised to purchase it by a permit and the seller has seen the respective licence or permit.
This bill seeks to limit the transaction relating to ammunition to only those who are the holders of a licence or a permit and also to keep a record of the particulars of the purchaser of ammunition. This includes the name and address of the purchaser and the serial number of the requisite licence or permit. It is evident that the changes proposed in this bill are not a steep change in firearms control policy. It is a logical incremental step for firearm control legislation—legislation that is already in existence. The real yardstick by which the O'Farrell Government should be held to account is how long it has taken to introduce these measures. The O'Farrell Government has lauded the need for these measures since February this year. However, it is only now that members of this House will have a chance to debate the bill, whereas these laws should have been in force months ago.
It is a sad day for the people of New South Wales when the Government introduces legislation of this nature—legislation that creates a perception that members of the community who hold and use firearms and are not law enforcement officers are presumed to be criminals, in particular members of rifle and shooting clubs and people in rural areas who have a legitimate need to use firearms. It is important to note that this legislation does not intend to attack the legitimate activities that they undertake, because nine out of ten times these classes of people use firearms in a safe and responsible manner. However, there are members in the community who feel the need to treat their firearms as weapons to intimidate and harm other people. They do so without regard for everyone else in the community. I commend this proposed legislation.
Mr JOHN BARILARO
(Monaro) [4.30 p.m.]: The Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012 introduces more stringent measures surrounding the purchase of ammunition. This is intended to assist police to tackle organised and other gun-related crime. As a responsible member of this Government I must look seriously at all options at our disposal to ensure that our streets and homes remain safe. Police have said these measures will provide them with a solid base for collecting evidence about the transfer of ammunition between parties where no formal records have existed before and help them in their war against gun-related crime. I make it absolutely clear that I loathe those that are involved in the current drive-by shootings in suburban Sydney and other gun-related crime that have plagued this city, have caused fear in the suburbs and made our streets unsafe.
But we need to be sure when considering new legislation to address a serious issue that we do not inadvertently have an impact on the majority of the law-abiding gun owners in our community. When I threw my hand up to become a member of Parliament and in turn was given my community's trust I said that I would perform my duties to the best of my ability, being honest with myself and my community and not compromise on the principles that have steered me well in life. I am committed to be part of a team that brings commonsense back to government and clearly addresses the concerns of our communities in a responsible and balanced way. At times I will be asked to make decisions based on what is best for the whole of the State as well as what is best in my electorate. I will never make decisions based on political convenience, only on what is right.
This bill involves exactly one of those moments when reason and commonsense need to prevail. The essence of the bill needs to be scrutinised to find the balance. Over the past months I have listened to many of my constituents who have raised compelling concerns about this bill. I have forwarded those concerns on, through the Hon. Rick Colless from the other place, in his role as The Nationals gun spokesman, and he in turn has relayed them to the Minister. It must be noted that the Minister and his office were always forthcoming with their replies and were very understanding of our concerns. I have made it my job to understand the implications of this bill. I have been part of a group attempting, through either amendment or regulation, to ensure that the bill addresses the many concerns we have heard. We have made a huge step forward with this legislation through regulation changes, some already tabled and others that will be forthcoming shortly.
I am still concerned about a number of issues, particularly the impact of this legislation on gun clubs and recreational shooters. These issues need to be addressed so I can say this bill is appropriate and balanced against commonsense. One must also consider the impact of this legislation on the many sporting shooters who borrow firearms from a family member or a friend to shoot on a range. They will not be covered by the provision that will apply to primary producers, and that remains an area needing further resolution. I do understand the nuisance that will be brought about by additional administrative red tape placed upon firearms dealers and sporting shooters, issues that await resolution, and which I am confident can be achieved. Many other members in this House have highlighted what the bill includes and what outcomes the bill will deliver, so I will not bore the House by repeating the principles of the bill.
What I will talk about is how I and my Nationals colleagues have worked within the parameters of government to improve the bill so that we do not impact inadvertently on law-abiding gun owners. The bill has led to vigorous correspondence to many Nationals members of both this House and the upper House in relation to possible unintended consequences for rural firearms owners and sporting shooters. This has led to robust and frank debate within our party room and our leadership team. The Nationals party room has worked and continues to work closely with the Minister for Police and Emergency Services to fully address these concerns. Already, as a result, the Minister for Police and Emergency Services has tabled a draft regulation that addresses some concerns of primary producers and their employees. Although these changes will be a welcome relief for primary producers, I remain concerned about the impact of this legislation on recreational and sporting shooters.
We will continue to address, in trust, with the Minister the issues around access to ammunition by sporting and recreational shooters through the newly created New South Wales Firearms Consultative Committee. The Nationals will be represented on the committee by the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services, along with the New South Wales Police Registry, the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services, New South Wales Farmers, the Sporting Shooters Association, the New South Wales Firearms Dealers Association, the Australian Rifle Association, the Amateur Pistol Association, the Game Council, the Antique Arms Collectors Society, the Firearms Safety and Training Council, the New South Wales Rifle Association and the Shooters and Fishers Party.
This is a fantastic initiative and one we have received much praise for. For the first time we have been able to get many of the stakeholders to the table so that we can work towards an outcome that achieves the intent of the bill but at the same time appeases the holders of many of the concerns. The committee will consider the issues, establish how the legislation affects small business and legitimate firearms users, and report back with recommendations on regulations that will assist them. Of course, in an area such as the Monaro with a cross-border community any cross-border issues that arise will be dealt with through the appropriate forums including the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management. What needs to be highlighted is that the legislation will not come into effect until the regulations have been reviewed and adopted. I am confident that now, with all parties sitting at the table, we will find a balance.
The member for Toongabbie said that he had not seen a more monumental failure by The Nationals than this legislation since the Coalition came to government. What a hypocrite. Many on the other side who have spoken on this bill oppose it but do not have the guts to speak out. More importantly, they have done nothing to address the many concerns and issues. As I explained earlier, I and my Nationals colleagues did not throw our hands up and surrender but worked constructively to make sure that our constituents were being heard and that their concerns were being addressed. It is The Nationals who have seen the regulations come though and The Nationals will ensure that we continue to address those outstanding issues.
The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! The member for Bankstown has had her opportunity to contribute to the debate.
Mr JOHN BARILARO:
Unfortunately, many on the other side have shown no ticker on this. They have shown no interest in working through the issues but have decided to play politics as always and not add anything positive to the debate. It is very difficult to introduce any firearms legislation that does not have unintended consequences for legally licensed firearms owners. It is equally true that it is very difficult to introduce any types of laws in this land without impacting on people who abide by the rules most of the time. In this case we again face a situation where we must change some regulations to make it difficult for the minority who do not abide by the laws of this State but not impact on most people who abide by the laws while using equipment that is potentially dangerous. I sincerely thank the Minister for his approach to this matter. I note that there will be negotiations, but I am confident and have assurances that we will reach a resolution shortly.
Today I stand by the many law-abiding gun owners in my electorate and I am determined to find the balance. Through the good work we have already done and with the work still to be done we will find the balance between tackling organised and other gun-related crime in this State and not impacting unduly on those who always do the right thing. Being in government is not always easy and being a government member is even harder. But my commitment when elected was and remains still today to be honest with my community and do what I believe is right for all who live in this great State.
I note also that the statutory review of the Act is due next year. If these amendments have inadvertently impacted negatively further than what was foreseen or have not achieved what they were designed to do, I will be again seeking to address those issues. I have trust in the Minister, and I have trust in the work we, The Nationals, have done to date to ensure further regulatory amendments can be made. I will continue to make the best decisions without compromising my principles. I ask those law-abiding gun owners, primary producers and sport and recreational shooters to now have trust in me and The Nationals that we will continue to fight their cause and rid this State once and for all of the organised and other gun-related crimes on our streets. I thank the House.
Mr NICK LALICH
(Cabramatta) [4.38 p.m.]: The objects of the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012 are to amend the Firearms Act 1996 as follows: first, to prevent the sale of ammunition by a licensed firearms dealer to a shooter unless the purchaser is the registered owner of, or has a permit to acquire, a firearm that takes that ammunition, in addition to the existing requirement that the purchaser must hold a licence or permit for a firearm that takes that ammunition; and, second, to require licensed firearms dealers to keep records of purchases and sales of that ammunition.
Gun crime is rife in western Sydney. I am being realistic not an alarmist. Too many firearms, most likely unregistered, are floating around the streets of our suburbs being used to terrorise our communities. Although most recent drive-bys—approximately 100 since the O'Farrell Government came to power—are perceived to be specifically targeted, a stray bullet can still take away an innocent life in a flash. To have nearly 100 shootings in just over a year for a new government is not good. There were two such shootings in Canley Heights, in my electorate of Cabramatta, over two days earlier this month. My diverse community has a high proportion of residents who left countries at war and came to Australia to escape the fear of living constantly under the threat of guns and bullets. They came to this country and to our city to experience peace and freedom. As legislators and their representatives in the oldest Parliament in Australia we have the responsibility to make laws that will protect them.
Members of The Nationals who have spoken in this debate have said this piece of legislation will cause problems for farmers, ammunition dealers and licensed shooters. I understand that concern but, unfortunately, that is an unintended consequence. I should like to draw an analogy. When I was a child I lived on an 11-acre farm that had many trees that had to be removed. My father would buy boxes of gelignite and dynamite from the local hardware store without signing anything. Neighbouring farmers whose properties were not cleared did the same thing. A year or so later my dad then had to sign for those items and later he had to have a licence to use such material. Eventually it became too difficult to purchase explosives but, fortunately, he had made enough money to hire D9 and D7 equipment to clear the properties. Some members of The Nationals understand the problems farmers face, and good luck to those who do not.
My analogy demonstrates how regulations and legislation evolve. If we did not have regulations regarding the sale of dynamite, we would not be concerned today with drive-by shootings; we would be experiencing drive-by bombings. Sometimes obscure laws are needed. If the Firearms Amendment (Ammunitions Control) Bill reduces drive-by shootings by only 10 per cent or 15 per cent it will be worth it and I support it. This bill further regulates the firearms industry in New South Wales. Law enforcement needs appropriate resources to fight the war against gun crime: adequate police staffing, a tough and heavy-handed legal system, and legislation controlling the supply of guns and ammunition. A gun is of no use if it has no bullets to fire. The bill tightens up who can buy ammunition and makes sure that prospective buyers can buy ammunition only if they are the registered owner of a gun or have a permit to acquire a gun that uses that ammunition.
As I said earlier, these provisions are additional to existing legislation that requires the purchaser to hold a licence or permit for a gun that uses such ammunition. Additionally, licensed firearms dealers will be required to keep records of their purchases and sales of ammunition. These records must be made available to police at any time, and police will be allowed to make copies. This will help police to investigate gun crime and assist in making our communities safe once again. The bill will make a difference on the streets of Sydney. It is a pity it took the O'Farrell Government so long to act. The Labor Opposition will support this bill to improve the safety of innocent citizens. The Labor Opposition will continue to judge legislation on its merits and look after the best interests of all communities in New South Wales; unlike the former Coalition Opposition, which opposed everything just for the sake of it. The spate of drive-by shootings in Sydney has to stop. Tightening the regulations on purchasing ammunition will stop ratbags from buying bullets for their mates. We are taking a stand against gun crime. The Opposition does not oppose this bill.
Mr JOHN WILLIAMS
(Murray-Darling) [4.43 p.m.]: I have been told that the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012 was requested by the Commissioner of Police. Any Premier who does not take action on a request from the commissioner would be regarded as recalcitrant. One has to wonder how a high-ranking police officer would suggest that this piece of legislation would address the occurrence of drive-by shootings in western Sydney. Perhaps he knows something the rest of the State does not. When this bill was introduced I thought it seemed innocuous but after I read its contents closely I could not see how it would reduce drive-by shootings in western Sydney. I should like to draw upon the comments of Breil Jackson, the editor of Guns and Games
, who stated in the April-June 2012 issue of that publication:
The problem seems to have started with the Police Commissioner who at the launch of these laws stated that he can't understand why someone with a shotgun licence can buy handgun ammunition. The Police Commissioner needs to read the Firearms Act. Someone with a shotgun licence, Category A, cannot currently buy Category H ammunition, and has not been able to for at least 15 years. The whole premise of these laws is based on a misconception. The new laws the commissioner thinks he needs, are actually already in place. It also stands to reason that 80% of the guns recovered in crime have no record of ever being registered, they have likely been illegally imported. If they can bring the guns in, they can bring in ammunition, as well as all sorts of other contraband such as drugs.
You can restrict the sale of ammunition all you like and the criminals will still do exactly the same thing that they have always done. This is going to create an enormous amount of paperwork for a firearms dealer and a lot of frustration for shooters. Frustration, because you will have to cart the registration papers for every firearm around with you when you want to buy ammunition. They are going to get lost, they could be stolen, this information has your address on it, it has the firearms you own on it—and exactly what they are. If you don't have that paperwork, you can't buy ammunition.
Those comments certainly represent strong criticism of the bill and are typical of comments to me from firearm owners in my electorate. I would have loved to have provided local licensed firearm owners with a valid reason why this bill was necessary and how it would work. They said that they would support it wholeheartedly if it decreased drive-by shootings. The bill's whole composition is infantile. Firearm licence owners have a licence number, just like a Medicare card, without an address, but the bill requires that names and addresses have to be recorded. This requirement is a return to the past. This bill probably has as much chance of working as one that requires a permit to purchase petrol. We know that petrol is used in the cars driven around western Sydney by those committing drive-by shootings. Surely we should be able to track where the petrol is being sold.
The real losers in the Murray-Darling electorate will be licensed ammunition dealers. Their sales will go to Victoria and South Australia because these draconian laws do not exist in those States. In this House we hear much talk from both sides about how police officers are respected and the importance of their presence on our streets. Police officers to whom I have spoken consider this bill a waste of time as it will create more brain-damaging distraction from their real duties. While drive-by shootings take place in western Sydney police officers will be inspecting records of ammunition sales. If the police commissioner is serious he can do one of two things. He can stake out western Sydney with police. That would be hard work and more police numbers would be needed, but it worked in Vietnam for the Australian Infantry when it ambushed some guerrilla fighters.
It is a time-consuming exercise and uses many resources, but it is a serious approach to what needs to be done. The other approach involves the owner of a house the subject of a drive-by shooting—who is actually a criminal too, because he or she knows exactly who shot up the house and caused the problem. In Victoria laws are being passed to ensure that such people have to give evidence before the court. The person is holding back from the police vital information about who conducted the drive-by shooting. This approach has to be pursued. The lives of neighbours of that individual are at risk because a criminal is living in their street and attracting attention. The firearms consultative committee has been set up. I will read the proposed terms of reference into Hansard
because I am sure that many firearm owners in my electorate would like to know what it is about.
The aim of the Firearms Consultative Committee is to provide a formal forum for consultation, information dissemination and advice to the New South Wales Government on issues relevant to the firearms community.
The Firearms Consultative Committee's objectives will be:
1. To monitor and advise the Minister for Police and Emergency Services on the operation of the provisions of the Firearms Act 1996 and other legislation relevant to firearms.
2. To provide advice to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services on legislative proposals that affect firearms legislation.
3. To facilitate inter-organisational co-ordination, co-operation and information sharing arrangements for key stakeholders within the firearms community.
4. Such other functions as are conferred or imposed on the Consultative Committee by the Minister, from time to time.
[Extension of time agreed to.
Chair and Secretariat:
The Ministry for Police and Emergency Services will Chair and provide secretariat services for the Working Group. The Parliamentary Secretary will be designated as Deputy Chair.
The Working Group will consist of one representative from each of the following organisations:
Ministry for Police and Emergency Services (Chair)
The National Party of Australia (Deputy Chair)
NSW Police Force (Firearms Registry)
NSW Police Force (State Crime Command's Firearms and Major Organised Crime Squad)
Shooters and Fishers Party
Firearms Dealers Association
Sporting Shooters Association of NSW
NSW Shooting Association
Game Council of NSW
NSW Amateur Pistol Association Inc.
Firearms Safety and Training Council
NSW Rifle Association
Antique Arms Collectors Society of NSW
With a review of firearms legislation due in the next 12 months and the formation of this consultative committee, I place a lot of hope in there being some reforms. There is no doubt that the regulations that we work under in New South Wales are the most severe of any State's. There has been a big impost on shooters in this State, and law-abiding citizens continue to be marginalised and sought out to bear the brunt of some of this legislation that will impact directly on them. Licensed firearm owners in this State—187,000 law-abiding citizens—have always been seen as a target. Hopefully, we will see some regulations in the future that make sense, and we can review the ammunition bill on the basis that the concerns of firearm owners in the Murray-Darling are heard and we start to see some common sense in the way we manage things in this State, because right now I cannot see my way to supporting the bill in its current form. I look forward to changes in the regulations on the basis that they will reflect the concerns of people in my electorate and that we will see positive outcomes.
Mr CHRISTOPHER GULAPTIS
(Clarence) [4.53 p.m.]: The Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012 is intended to amend the Firearms Act 1996 to make further provision for the purchase and sale of ammunition. The purpose of this bill is to assist police to tackle organised and other gun-related crime. Unfortunately, no evidence has been provided to date that shows how this bill will achieve this desired result. I have to say from the outset that this bill is fundamentally flawed. It is flawed because it targets the wrong people. The bill makes it tough for law-abiding registered gun owners instead of criminals. Once this bill is passed the law-abiding public will have to deal with the additional costs and red tape associated with owning a firearm. Farmers, sporting shooters and gun shop owners are the ones who will carry the cost, and for the criminals it is business as usual.
When the gun buyback was on law-abiding citizens handed their guns in; the criminals did not. The bill operates on the same premise: its impact will be felt mostly by honest people and not the villains. The bill, once enacted, will require that a person, before purchasing ammunition, will have to apply for and be granted an ammunition permit. The permit will carry a $30 fee. Many firearms owners own a number of guns. This is just an additional impost on law-abiding people and is seen by many in my electorate as a money grab. There are over 3,000 registered firearms owners in the Clarence electorate. The bill will also add a layer of red tape when farmers or sporting shooters have to purchase ammunition: when someone applies for a permit to purchase ammunition they will have to complete the appropriate forms. This takes time—much longer if individual permits are required for each gun. This is the flaw with the bill.
Honest people will pay the additional cost, honest people will fill out the forms, but the criminals will not—they will steal their ammunition or bring it in illegally. It will not stop the drive-bys. The bill requires that an ammunition permit can be issued only by the Commissioner of Police. It does not clarify whether the information is to stay on the premises or is to be sent to the firearms registry. There is potential for the details of gun owners and their ammunition stock to fall into criminal hands. This poses a security risk for families and shop owners alike. Families will be at risk because their names, addresses and firearms details will be kept in stores across my electorate. After all, criminals get their weapons and ammunition by stealing them.
The bill unnecessarily increases cost, bureaucracy and security requirements for thousands of good, everyday people. It will affect them for years to come; every time they buy ammunition they will curse us. People's lives and businesses will be affected needlessly. I have had representations in my electorate office from farmers, sporting shooters and gun shop owners about this bill. They are angry that they are at the centre of the bill, not the criminal elements that are perpetrating gun crimes around the State. Ask the people of my electorate how gun-related crimes can be stopped, and they will tell you: introduce mandatory sentences for anyone carrying an illegal firearm—after all, they are the bad guys.
I know that the bill has led to some quite vigorous correspondence being received by many Nationals members of Parliament and members of the Legislative Council about possible unintended consequences for rural firearms owners and sporting shooters. I know that The Nationals party room is working closely with the Minister for Police and Emergency Services to address those concerns fully and that a draft regulation, which has been tabled, seeks to address the concerns of primary producers and employees. I also know that issues around access to ammunition by sporting shooters will be addressed by the newly created NSW Firearms Consultative Committee.
This committee will receive representations from a wide range of organisations including the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services, the NSW Police Registry, the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services, the NSW Farmers Association, the Sporting Shooters Association, the NSW Firearms Dealers Association, the Australian Rifle Association, the Amateur Pistol Association, the Game Council, the Antique Collectors Association, the Firearm Safety and Training Council, the New South Wales Rifle Association, and the Shooters and Fishers Party. This is a legitimate effort by a wide array of organisations to improve the mechanics of the legislation. Unfortunately, introducing regulations to sweeten up a flawed bill is like putting lipstick on a pig: at the end of the day it is still a pig. As a Coalition we came to government with a commitment to reduce regulations; with this bill we are increasing regulations, for very little gain.
But I can say that the Shooters and Fishers Party did not stand up for farmers and sporting shooters in the other place. At least The Nationals are prepared to negotiate some practical regulations to ameliorate the impact of this legislation for farmers, sporting shooters, gun shop owners and law-abiding citizens. Nonetheless, I believe this bill will hurt ordinary law-abiding citizens and let the crims carry on as usual. I am proud to be a member of The Nationals, I am proud to be a member of the Coalition Government, and I am proud of the achievements of the Coalition Government over the past 14 months. This Government has lifted New South Wales out of the mire that it had been in for the past decade and introduced sensible legislation and policies. But this legislation is wrong and I am extremely disappointed that it is being debated in this place.
Mr TROY GRANT
(Dubbo—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.01 p.m.]: I will make a contribution to debate on the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012. I have listened closely to the contributions to debate on this bill here and in another place. I have paid close attention to the comments made by crossbench members elsewhere and by colleagues in the Liberal Party and The Nationals who have spoken at length about the implications of this bill. Whilst I find myself agreeing with many of the arguments raised during the debate, I am to a very large extent guided in my response by the sentiments expressed by my constituents, many of whom took the time to speak with or write to me directly about their concerns with the proposed legislation, and its potential to deliver unforeseen or unintended consequences that may adversely impact the businesses and livelihoods of large numbers of gun shop proprietors and the sporting shooters who rely on those shops for their ammunition supplies.
It ought to be recognised that legitimate questions have been raised with me and with many of my Nationals colleagues since the bill was introduced in the other place in February. The views of these constituents have not been taken lightly; nor have they been ignored. I assure the House that these matters have been canvassed at length with the most senior members of the Government and that every effort has been made to draw attention to the likely implications for the firearms fraternity if measures are not considered as part of this legislative package that will limit or minimise the unintended negative consequences that have been identified and may arise following the likely passage of the bill through Parliament.
I understand that measures designed to deal directly with many of the concerns raised will be addressed by way of regulation. Clearly, the substance of these regulatory measures will largely determine the success or otherwise of this legislative reform. A key part of the reform rests with the creation of the NSW Firearms Consultative Committee and how successfully it addresses the ammunition access issues raised by sporting shooters. Among the members to be represented on the committee is my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services, The Nationals member for Tweed. Clearly, any recommendations arising out of this process must directly address the concerns raised with the committee or run the very real risk of failing to deliver an acceptable outcome for small businesses and firearms users affected by these legislative changes.
I abhor the reckless criminal behaviour engaged in by the individuals involved in the recent spate of drive-by shootings in suburban Sydney and other gun-related crime. As a police officer for 22 years I saw firsthand, particularly during my time as a member of the Major Crime Squad North Armed Hold-up Unit, the lifelong and devastating impacts that gun crime has on victims. In principle, I would support any reasonable legislative measure that demonstrably limits opportunities for the unlawful acquisition of firearms and ammunition. However, it is far too early in the process for a realistic assessment to be made of whether the legislative measures outlined in this bill and the accompanying regulations will have the desired outcome. This goes to the heart of much of the considerable conjecture within the shooting community since the tabling of the bill. While I do not condone the more extreme reactions that this bill has provoked, I appreciate the understandable passion it has engendered within the firearms fraternity.
Going through the provisions of the bill would be a little pointless at this stage of the debate given that most of the important aspects have been highlighted and were the subject of considerable discussion during its passage through both Houses. Earlier speakers have articulated clearly the aspects of the bill that have caused the greatest amount of concern to shooters. I can well understand the frustration brought about by placing additional administrative burdens upon firearms dealers and sporting shooters. Measures to placate the concerns raised with colleagues over the bill's likely impact upon primary producers have, I understand, been addressed by the draft regulations tabled by the Minister in another place. I know that the Minister has endeavoured to accommodate the concerns raised with him by my Nationals colleagues and by me. I believe and trust in our Minister.
Whether the Firearms Consultative Committee can overcome the remaining perceived shortcomings of the proposed legislation is less clear. I have every confidence that The Nationals will continue to do as they have always done: make decisions in the best interests of their constituents. The passing of this bill should not be interpreted as an indication that the interests of firearms enthusiasts have somehow been diminished or considered of lesser importance than the overriding need to address an escalating crime situation in the capital city. It may be of little comfort to the firearms fraternity in this instance, but without their valued insight on the implications of this legislation for their businesses and livelihoods, I suspect the measures introduced would have been far less effective than they might otherwise be.
Finally, I indicate to the House that this is an area of policy change that has weighed heavily on my mind and on the minds of my Nationals colleagues in recent weeks. I am not comfortable with all aspects of the bill, but I recognise the need to introduce more stringent measures to clamp down on access to illegal firearms and ammunition. The Minister has placed great faith in the legislative changes he is introducing and must ensure that those changes lead to a significant improvement in the detection and capture of the individuals engaged in unlawful activities, which is what the bill is designed to enable. No doubt firearms dealers and the sporting shooters fraternity will join me in watching these events with a great deal of interest and will be quick to remind the Government of the shortcomings of its legislation if these changes fail to provide any additional benefit in curtailing the current Sydney shooting spree.
Mr PAUL TOOLE
(Bathurst—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.08 p.m.]: I make a contribution to debate on the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012. The issue of firearms is very important to me personally and to all members of The Nationals. Many of our friends, families, neighbours and members are licensed shooters and registered firearms owners who use their weapons primarily for farm management reasons. Mr Assistant-Speaker, like you, I grew up on a farm and I also learned to shoot at a very young age. My family still owns the farm. The friends, families and neighbours that I am speaking about have learned to use firearms and ammunition in a very responsible manner.
This amending bill will have collateral consequences for some groups of law-abiding firearms owners, including those who hold a firearms licence for primary production purposes. Of course, the illegal acquisition of firearms and their use is to be condemned and must be considered a criminal offence of the highest order. I agree that law enforcement agencies must be given every possible support to tackle gun-related crime, including the importation of illegal weapons and the importation or acquisition and subsequent use of illegally acquired ammunition. But in its original form the bill disadvantaged law-abiding, licensed individuals who have genuine reasons for being granted a firearms licence.
I acknowledge that the Minister for Police and Emergency Services recognised that and made several amendments that are sensible and that address a number of concerns raised by New South Wales farmers. The majority of farmers in New South Wales have a firearms licence—they hold category A and B licences, which allow them to use rimfire and centrefire bolt action rifles and shotguns for on-farm use, such as to control pest and feral animals or to euthanise injured and ailing livestock. Those categories of licence do not permit the use or ownership of semiautomatic or pump action weapons. It is an accepted fact that many weapons and unknown quantities of ammunition are imported illegally into Australia. Australian Federal Police and the Federal Government must make addressing that issue the highest priority. Most of those illegal weapons are pistols of varying calibres and they cannot be purchased or sold in New South Wales or in Australia, but of course those importing them do not abide by the laws of this land.
Many primary producing families in this State have two or more family members who hold a firearms licence but the firearms on the property are registered to only one family member. I understand that the Minister has already introduced regulations to allow employees, other family members, contractors or anyone else working on a farm, to obtain a permit to allow them to purchase ammunition. I congratulate the Minister on addressing that issue. I am also gravely concerned about the impact of this legislation on gun clubs and gun shop owners and on the many sporting shooters who borrow firearms from a family member or a friend to shoot on a range. They will not be covered by the provisions that will apply to primary producers. The proposed legislation will impact on the many people who enjoy shooting in New South Wales if we cannot resolve this issue.
I hear an interjection from the Opposition. It is interesting that Labor and The Greens now take the high ground on this issue. They ignored it for more than 16 years and did nothing. Now they want to attack the law-abiding citizens of regional New South Wales through legislation such as this. The Greens are also going berserk and making threats about taking all guns from all law-abiding citizens who live in regional communities. It is a shame they are misrepresenting constituents who live in regional New South Wales. This bill impacts upon law-abiding citizens—sporting shooters and farmers, and others who overwhelmingly undertake the ownership of firearms in a law-abiding, professional and appropriate way.
I reiterate that drive-by shootings are carried out by people who obtain firearms and ammunition illegally. Imposing further restrictions on legal firearms owners will not have a great impact on those offenders because they do not abide by the laws of this State and the shootings are an ongoing problem. Many club members and concerned citizens have made representations to me about their very legitimate concerns. I still have outstanding issues with the legislation and I cannot support the bill in its current structure. I am concerned as to what regulations will be imposed, but I am keen to continue discussions with the Parliamentary Secretary about the stakeholder meetings that are taking place in relation to this matter.
Mr ANDREW GEE
(Orange) [5.14 p.m.]: I express my concerns about the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012. Much has been said about this legislation. I say at the outset that I am not a firearm owner, and I never have been. I note that a number of firearm owners have addressed not only this House but also the other place. We heard in this House from the member for Coffs Harbour, who is a firearms user and owner, and also from the member for Mount Druitt. The issue of drive-by shootings in Sydney is a serious one for this Government, as it was for previous governments. It is a difficult issue that will not be solved overnight and it requires a determined and sustained effort from the legislature, the police and the judiciary to address it.
In the swift and comprehensive way it has responded to the issue of drive-by shootings the O'Farrell Government has demonstrated that it has the determination and political will to curb this violence. The Crimes (Criminal Organisations Control) Bill has been enacted and consorting provisions of the Crimes Act have been beefed up to prevent people found guilty of an indictable offence from associating with other convicted offenders. New offences created by the raft of new legislation include knowingly benefiting from the activities of a criminal group, directing the activity of a criminal group, directing the activating of a criminal enterprise that is planned and organised, and firing at a dwelling house as part of an organised criminal activity.
The recent legislation designed to remove bikie gangs from the operation of tattoo parlours is another creative use of legislation to combat serious crime. The Government should rightly be commended for introducing that raft of legislation. Law-abiding gun owners would also support that legislation wholeheartedly. We all support the efforts of our law enforcement agencies in cracking down on gun crime. This bill was conceived as a further legislative response to this increasing violence. However, it has been met with anger, resentment and frustration in regional areas. The many letters and emails I have received on the issue are a testament to those feelings. The correspondence highlights the wide-ranging concerns and anger about the impact of this legislation on law-abiding gun owners and small business operators in country areas.
I have received correspondence from people in Mudgee and right across my electorate, like Mr Wayne Burgess from Orange. People have contacted me to express their concern, their frustration and their anger about this legislation. While the sentiment behind this legislation is understandable, concerns about its overall effect and effectiveness remain. I share those concerns. Efforts have been made to address the concerns of law-abiding gun owners through the regulations associated with this bill. The Firearms Consultative Committee has so far produced a couple of amendments designed to meet some of these concerns.
The ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Andrew Fraser):
Order! I do not know whether the member for Cessnock has contributed to this debate—
Mr Clayton Barr:
Yes, I have.
The ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Andrew Fraser):
Order! In that case, I draw the member's attention to Standing Order 52, which states that members will be heard in silence, and ask him to allow other members to contribute to the debate.
Mr ANDREW GEE:
The work of the Firearms Consultative Committee has been carried out in good faith and the work of the committee will continue. But what correspondents have said to me is that the regulations simply highlight where the burden of this bill falls, and that is on law-abiding gun owners in regional New South Wales. Law-abiding gun owners have a number of issues with this legislation. They fear that the recording and storage of information relating to ammunition will just provide a potential shopping list for criminals and could well be stored in a variety of places. For hardworking small business people it just means more red tape. All this information needs to be collated and stored by gun shop owners. Small business people have enough red tape to deal with, without having to add a whole new layer of bureaucracy and regulation. The message they are sending through loud and clear is: Enough is enough.
Despite the proposed regulations, resentment towards the legislation from farmers remains. At the heart of the anger felt by firearm owners in my electorate is that gun owners in the Central West are hardworking and law-abiding citizens. They abhor drive-by shootings in Sydney as much as other law-abiding citizens, but they are angry that they are the ones who will bear the burden of this legislation. They are the ones who are being made to feel like criminals in circumstances where they do not believe the legislation will stop real criminals engaging in gun crime in Sydney. Even with the amendments, for many in the Central West the bill represents more red tape, more bureaucracy and more regulation. I share their concerns. In its current form I do not endorse this bill, I do not support this bill and I do not seek to have any legislative holy water sprinkled upon this bill. What law-abiding gun owners want, support and endorse are tough laws that hit real criminals. The concerns of law-abiding gun owners need to be addressed and taken seriously. They feel aggrieved and slighted by this legislation.
Mr KEVIN ANDERSON
(Tamworth) [5.21 p.m.]: The Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012 was introduced on the back of an escalation in the number of drive-by shootings and crimes involving firearms. The O'Farrell-Stoner Government introduced a suite of measures to try to stop gun crime and drive-by shootings being committed by organised criminals, bikie gang members and other criminals. Some of those measures include amendments to consorting laws to toughen up those laws to make it easier for police to obtain convictions relating to those offences. They also include amendments to the gang laws and increased penalties for crimes with guns. Also, through the Commissioner of Police, the Government has established a police task force that has achieved more than 560 charges this year alone. This bill is another piece in a raft of legislation intended to make life harder for organised criminals.
However, my electorate sees that this bill will make life harder for law-abiding firearms owners, registered dealers and gun shop owners. Much work needs to be done. I have spoken with many registered firearms owners in my electorate about this bill. They have given me feedback and let me know their thoughts on what is wrong with the bill. As well as primary producers, I have spoken with members of gun clubs, pistol clubs, firearms shooters, sporting shooters and individual firearms owners who have expressed concerns about the bill's impact on them. I will share some of the correspondence I have received on this issue. Dick Letchford, a retired detective inspector from Tamworth, holds this view about the amendments to the Firearms Act in relation to the purchase of ammunition:
Now for all persons who are licensed shooters, I don't think that there is much of an inconvenience to them when purchasing ammunition, because all they will buy is ammunition for the weapons that are registered to them. Now if the aim of the change in legislation relating to ammunition is to stop the drive by shootings it is destined to fail.
An example: A person (called A), who is a licensed shooter for handguns, as most of them will possess a number of different calibres for their target shooting. Most shooters reload their own ammunition for the weapons they legally possess. This person has no criminal convictions, however he has a number of associates, who have criminal tendencies and possess illegal hand guns. They need ammunition for a weapon (say a 9mm,) which this person also legally possesses. He goes to the gun shop and purchases say 1000 projectiles of 9 mm, cartridge cases, percussion caps and powder, which could be done over a number of days from different gun shops or on line. He reloads that ammunition and then sells it to the persons in possession of illegal hand guns.
Another example comes from the Sleightholmes, who recently sold Tamworth Firearms having owned the business for 11 years. They say:
What if you have a .357 rifle and you want to buy .38 ammunition for it, this would not be allowed even though the rifle can chamber the two lots of ammunition. In the same situation what if the Firearms Registry has issued the wrong calibre on the registration places, or worse what if people still had duplicate copies of firearms they have already sold. It also presents a problem if those registration papers are stolen, from your car. This would give the criminals all the information they need, the client's name and address.
As a result of those concerns in my community and across regional New South Wales, a number of regulations are being introduced. These cover purchasing ammunition while not holding a firearms licence. That was a major concern for primary producers; however, it is being addressed through the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Permits) Bill 2012. This allows primary producers, employers and employees to obtain a permit so that an employee, spouse or partner can purchase ammunition on their behalf. It is a start, but let us not lose sight of commonsense. We need to go further. For example, the Ammunition and Club Armourers Regulation will enable the armourer of a club to resell ammunition to members of the club on the day of competition.
My community is also calling for consideration to be given to small business owners who deal in firearms and ammunition. They will be burdened with the red tape of recording extra data and downloading the information in a timely manner. In some cases they may need to employ an extra staff member. That will add more cost to their bottom line—something that small businesses can ill afford. At present they only need to record names when powder is purchased, not ammunition. We must get this right. Whilst trying to stop the offences of gun crime, drive-by shootings and organised crime being committed by bikie gang members and other criminals, we need to consider and not disadvantage the thousands of lawful, registered firearms owners in this case in the Tamworth electorate. We need to take into consideration the dealers and the gun shop owners who will have to deal with the added red tape of recording ammunition sales. We need to explore ways of making it easier for them to do this.
The committee that was tasked to come back with the regulations has completed its review. However, there is a suggestion that committee members will be retained and required to review and report on the complete firearms Act next year. It is hoped that they will consider the issues, establish how the legislation could be amended to look after small businesses and legitimate firearms users and report back with commonsense recommendations on regulations that will assist them. Members of the committee include the New South Wales Police Registry, the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services, the NSW Farmers Association, the Sporting Shooters Association, the New South Wales Firearms Dealers Association, the Australian Rifle Association, the Amateur Pistol Association, the Games Council, the Antique Collectors Association, the Firearm Safety and Training Council, the New South Wales Rifle Association, and the Shooters and Fishers Party.
I put that on record so people in my electorate can contact those organisations to ensure that they will continue to voice their concerns. I will continue to listen to and receive feedback from my community so that we can inform the committee and the Government about practical, commonsense regulations that do not disadvantage the thousands of regional registered and law-abiding firearms owners and the dealers who play an important role in the small business sector and in our communities. I thank each and every person who has taken the time to contact me, and I encourage others to do so. I want to be at the table when decisions are made so that I can represent my constituents. It is important for me to work collaboratively with the committee in order to get the best result possible from this legislation and the regulations. I stand with my community.
Mr CRAIG BAUMANN
(Port Stephens—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.28 p.m.]: The object of the Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Bill 2012 is to amend the Firearms Act 1996 to prevent the sale of ammunition by a licensed firearms dealer to a shooter unless the purchaser is the registered owner of, or has a permit to acquire, a firearm that takes the ammunition. That is in addition to the existing requirement that the purchaser must hold a licence or permit for a firearm that takes the ammunition. The second part of the object is to require licensed firearms dealers to keep records of purchases and sales of ammunition. The intent of this bill is to implement a series of reforms to strengthen further the regulation of the sale and transfer of firearms ammunition in New South Wales. The measures are aimed at preventing ammunition from coming into the possession of criminals who may use it for illegal activities, such as robberies and drive-by shootings. The provisions of the bill are not meant to disadvantage appropriately licensed individuals, such as members of a shooting club. The Legislation Review Committee in its digest dated 21 February dealt with a few concerns. I will quickly comment on those concerns. The report states at paragraphs 15, 16, 19 and 20:
15. The Committee notes that similar provisions requiring the recording of personal details are contained in the Firearms Act 1966 in relation to the sale of firearms.
The Committee notes that introducing legal requirements to provide personal details when purchasing goods may trespass on a person's right to privacy. However, the Committee is of the view that in these circumstances the public interest in providing assistance to police to investigate criminal behaviour overrides this interest.
16. Clause 1 of the Bill inserts into the Firearms Act 1996 provisions which empower a police officer to obtain records without documentation to show reasonable cause for the acquisition of such records. Such a provision may trespass against personal rights and liberties. The Committee is of the view however that these provisions are designed to assist police in investigating and preventing criminal behaviour that endangers the public.
Empowering police officers to obtain records without the need to show reasonable cause may in some circumstances trespass against personal rights and liberties. However, the Committee considers that the provisions in the Bill are designed to assist police in investigating and preventing criminal behaviour which endangers the public and as such the Committee makes no further comment in relation to these provisions.
19. Imposing strict liability is often seen as contrary to the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, the imposition of strict liability will not always trespass on personal rights and liberties. The Committee considers that the above two offences are designed to support public safety and assist police in investigating criminal behaviour.
The Committee notes the strict liability offences contained in the Bill however considers that the offences are designed to assist police in investigating criminal behaviour and support public safety. As such the Committee makes no further comment in relation to these provisions.
20. The Bill provides for this Act to commence on a day or days to be appointed by proclamation. In the Second Reading speech the Minister commented that this is to allow time for the NSW Police Force to develop and agree on appropriate forms of record keeping and advise dealers in advance of the new requirements under the Act.
The Committee will always note where commencement of an Act is delegated to the Executive, once passed by the Legislature. However, the Committee notes that commencing the Act by proclamation will allow time for appropriate procedures to de developed to support the objectives of the Act. The Committee also notes that commencement by proclamation will allow time to advise those affected of the new requirements under the Act. Accordingly, in these circumstances, the Committee does not consider there to be an inappropriate delegation of legislative powers.
That last point allows proclamation to occur when the requirements of this legislation can be suitably enacted when appropriate systems, licences and paperwork are in place. I plead with the Commissioner of Police to make the system as easy as possible and user friendly to the vast number of legitimate law-abiding shooters in New South Wales. I have many friends who are extremely responsible and law-abiding shooters and gun owners. I know they understand that this legislation is to protect the police and the community from those who have illegal guns and who use them in committing crimes. Neither they nor I know how effective this legislation will be, but when the police ask for help in protecting the community we are obliged to give that help. I think I can say that this is probably not the most popular legislation to be introduced into this Parliament, but I think it is best summed up by the contribution of the member for Mount Druitt, who led for the Opposition during debate on the bill, when he said:
Because of the emotion behind certain offences and crimes we are all frog-marched as legislators—both sides of the political fence—into supporting them. That is why, I assume, the Government is introducing the bill and the Opposition, of which I am a member, is supporting it. I do not know why, but we will not oppose the bill. We do have to be seen to be doing something and that is why both sides of the House will support this ...
We have an obligation to provide the police with appropriate weapons to fight crime, and this bill is one of those weapons. If this bill saves one victim of illegal firearms, it is worth supporting. I simply implore the Commissioner of Police to make the operation of this legislation as easy as possible for the vast bulk of responsible and law-abiding legal gun owners and shooters. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr GEOFF PROVEST
(Tweed—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.34 p.m.], in reply: I represent the Minister for Police and Emergency Services during this reply to the second reading debate on the Firearms Amendment (Ammunitions Control) Bill 2012. This bill has strategic and proactive measures to provide necessary additional support to our law enforcement agencies. It is one part of a range of measures being taken by the Government to respond to drive-by shootings. I am pleased that the Opposition has taken the sensible path of supporting the bill. The bill has engaged a number of members and constituents. The Minister for Police and Emergency Services has spent time with stakeholder groups and their representatives, along with members of Parliament, to listen to and address the concerns they have raised.
I thank members who contributed to debate on the second reading of the bill, including the members for Myall Lakes, Toongabbie, Camden, Sydney, Rockdale, Cessnock, East Hills, Lake Macquarie, Mount Druitt, Coffs Harbour, Northern Tablelands, Coogee, Bankstown, Port Macquarie, Fairfield, Monaro, Cabramatta, Murray-Darling, Clarence, Dubbo, Bathurst, Orange, Tamworth and Port Stephens—a total of 24 members. I particularly thank my Nationals colleagues for the time they have taken to speak with their local communities about this bill. They have proven that they are attentive to the needs of their unique constituencies. No-one could ever accuse them of not advocating strongly on their behalf. Given the issues raised during the debate, it would be remiss of me not to address some of them.
A number of members raised concerns about access to ammunition, especially by those who hold a firearms license but who either do not have a firearm registered in their name, or at times may wish to borrow a firearm. Much of that concern is couched in terms of inconvenience—inconvenience when purchasing ammunition and the inconvenience of asking the owner of a borrowed firearm to also provide ammunition. Members should be aware that the possession of a firearm is conditional to ensuring public safety. As we have said on previous occasions, public safety must be paramount in all decisions relating to this issue. A lot of firearms owners are responsible, such as primary producers for whom a firearm is a tool, not a weapon. Currently 13,000 primary producers are registered firearm owners. There are also sporting shooters associations. In a short time, the London Olympics will commence and one of its events will be shooting, which will include shotgun target shooting. In the past, Australia has scored well in Olympic shooting events.
With a licence comes responsibility—a principle that was highlighted by the Firearms Act 1996. We recognise that those who purchase ammunition will be additionally inconvenienced, but it will be a very minor inconvenience in the context of preserving public safety. Inconvenience must be considered in the context of the overriding principle of imposing controls on firearms and ammunition to ensure public safety. For firearms owners, the inconvenience amounts to carrying and producing the registration certificate or permit required when buying ammunition. This minor inconvenience is to ensure ammunition is being purchased for a firearm that the purchaser has a lawful and genuine reason to use. For those who borrow firearms, the minor inconvenience is that they will need their friend to provide them with ammunition as well.
The member for Toongabbie also raised the inconvenience caused to parents who will be unable to purchase ammunition for a minor who is borrowing a firearm of a calibre different to their firearm. While the Government recognises that parents have busy lives, we do not believe that the public safety benefits of these proposals should be ignored to continue unrestricted access to ammunition. I appreciate that there are legitimate reasons why a person who is not a registered owner of a firearm may need to purchase ammunition. This issue was raised with the Government and we have responded to it. We have responded to the very real concerns of firearms licensees, particularly those in rural and remote areas who have family members in primary production, who use or purchase ammunition for a firearm registered to a spouse or parent, or employees who purchase ammunition for firearms registered to their employers.
These concerns will be met through a regulation under the Firearms Act 1996 that will create a permit to acquire ammunition in limited circumstances. The details of the permit will then be recorded in the same way as a certificate of registration or permit to acquire a firearm. My colleagues on this side of the House have also raised concerns about access to ammunition for sporting shooters. The Minister for Police and Emergency Services recently established a Firearms Consultative Committee and this was the first issue the committee considered. The committee's members are drawn from key stakeholder groups, including the Firearms Dealers Association, the NSW Rifle Association, the Antique Arms Collectors Society of Australia, the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, NSW Farmers, the NSW Shooting Association, the Game Council of NSW, the NSW Amateur Pistol Association Inc., the Firearm Safety and Training Council, the NSW Police Force and the Shooters and Fishers Party. I am the deputy-chair of the committee. At its first meeting, which was held on 21 May, the committee discussed this subject and a number of other firearms issues.
One thing I took away from the meeting was the genuine concern of those on the committee to work with the Government to make sure that people's legitimate rights are protected and to make sure their sport continues. Another meeting is scheduled for June. Following the meeting I received a number of emails from a large number of shooters applauding the O'Farrell-Stoner Government for establishing the Firearms Consultative Committee. People emailed me that for too long the issue had been a political football; they had been booted from one side to the other. Finally the O'Farrell-Stoner Government has given the committee the ability to be open and transparent, and the ability to communicate with government at the highest level possible about issues that affect the sport of shooters and their livelihoods. The committee is one of the better committees I have sat on. Committee deliberations started slowly, but they ended with a free flow of information backwards and forwards.
The acceptance of the committee was highlighted by the large number of emails I received from senior country people and from city people. I even received an email from a constituent of the member the Drummoyne saying how great it was that the Government had formed the Firearms Consultative Committee. The Government is to be applauded. The feedback I have received confirms that we are being open and transparent, and listening to the concerns of the people, which is what we said we would do when we came into government. I applaud the Minister for Police and Emergency Services for formulating that committee and being proactive. As I said, at its first meeting the committee discussed and considered sporting shooters' concerns about accessing ammunition. The meeting discussed the exemption in the bill that means that club armourers can sell ammunition to members of a firearms club for use in a firearm registered to the club. The requirement to record the name and address and so on will continue to apply.
Armourers will record the registration details of the club firearm that is being used by the club member alongside the record of purchase. Following discussions at that meeting and to encourage the establishment of armourers at all clubs, the Government will waive the initial application fee to enable each club to nominate and establish one armourer. Further, the Government will also regulate to exempt the recording of registration details in connection with shooting competitions at clubs. This will address stakeholder concerns about the practical impact of recording firearms registration details in a competition environment. Armourers will still be required to sight and record licence details when ammunition is purchased. These measures demonstrate this Government's preparedness to listen to the issues being raised with our members and to respond with practical solutions to genuine concerns.
I will address the comments of the member for Cessnock. He appears to have fundamentally misunderstood how the regulation would work. He seems to think that we would require every firearms owner to hold a permit to purchase ammunition. I can assure members that is not the Government's intention. The new permit will simply provide certification of a genuine need to purchase ammunition when the permit holder does not own a firearm that requires the ammunition being purchased. Any person who is purchasing ammunition for a firearm registered in his or her name will not need a permit. To make it clear, the genuine need will be limited to household members of primary producers, employers, partners of businesses and individuals who have a genuine need to purchase ammunition for a firearm registered to another person. I am advised that it is not expected to affect a large number of people, but is, for reasons of economic efficiency, considered a necessary exception to the new requirements.
Because of this misunderstanding, the suggestion of the member for Cessnock of 60 additional staff for the firearms registry is fanciful. A permit may list a number of firearms for which ammunition can be purchased, so long as there is a genuine reason and it arises because of the reasons outlined previously. Again, the member's misunderstanding means that his concerns about increased costs to firearms owners are ill-conceived. The member for Cessnock also suggested that bikies who own rural properties will be able to access ammunition permits. The regulation will make it clear that a permit will be available only when the applicant already holds a licence issued for the genuine purpose of primary production. I remind the member that holders of a firearms licence are required to meet stringent requirements, including being a fit and proper person. That is another misunderstanding clarified.
Members have questioned how ammunition will be tracked once it leaves the store and how this amendment will benefit the NSW Police Force in investigating firearms-related crime. For the first time, formal and accessible records of the transfer of ammunition between parties will exist. For the first time police will be able to make inquiries with dealers as to who is purchasing ammunition, which will enable the tracing of ammunition from dealers to end users. This will provide police with a solid basis for evidence collection—a chain of evidence, for want of another phrase—and to monitor inappropriate transactions of ammunition when these arise. Purchasers and dealers will be accountable for the ammunition they buy and sell. The measures are not unlike those applying to pawnbrokers, who must also keep records of items they purchase and sell.
Members have also asked how dealers' records will be secured and not fall into the wrong hands. These are important issues. The record-keeping requirements contained in this bill are similar to the existing requirements on dealers for firearms transactions. The current records are subject to security arrangements that will apply to ammunition records. The fact that dealers are required to record firearms transactions already demonstrates the fallacy that some members peddled during the debate that the new requirements would impose onerous record-keeping requirements. Record-keeping requirements already exist for the sale of firearms, not to mention normal business requirements, and now they are being extended sensibly to apply to ammunition. These record-keeping provisions are not without precedent as similar requirements are already in place in South Australia, Western Australia and the United Kingdom.
Members questioned whether bulk purchase of ammunition would increase attendant storage and security concerns. Again, stringent controls are in place already to regulate how ammunition is stored: it must be secured separately from any firearms owned by the individual. The measures proposed by the bill will further restrict the potential for firearms ammunition to come into the possession of criminals and be used in crimes such as robberies and drive-by shootings. The Government clearly condemns all such illegal activities whenever and wherever they occur. The bill provides a sensible balance between regulation to assist law enforcement, public safety and access to ammunition for lawful purposes. We have backed and will continue to back the NSW Police Force and the NSW Crime Commission in their dedication of all available and appropriate resources in combating these crimes. Once again, I thank members for their valuable contributions to the debate. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now read a second time—put.
[Division called for
Mr Gareth Ward:
Point of order: Two members have to call for a division, not one.
The ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Andrew Fraser):
Order! One member can call for a division. I commend the standing orders to the member for Kiama.
Division called for and Standing Order 181 applied.
Question declared resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Motion by Mr Geoff Provest agreed to:
Bill read a third time and returned to the Legislative Council without amendment.
That this bill be now read a third time.