Firearms Amendment Bill 2017
It gives me great pleasure to rise this morning to make a contribution to the Firearms Amendment Bill 2017, and I want to make a few comments in relation to the contents of this bill, but before I do that I am happy to put on the record that I am a shooter. I am a licensed shooter, and I own a couple of firearms. I grew up on a farm where we undertook quite a bit of shooting as part of the requirements of our farming enterprise, and I am a member of Field and Game Australia to date. I am just happy to put that on the record.
In terms of this bill there are some things in here that do concern me, and I wish to put those on the record to indicate that I am not pleased with everything in this bill. I am happy to acknowledge the amendments that have been put forward by Mr O'Donohue on behalf of the coalition, and I think some of those amendments are favourable and would make this bill a better bill if they were to pass as a part of this legislation. If you look at what is contained in this bill, the sentiment of it might seem reasonable at the outset in terms of addressing issues such as mitigating terror-related strategies. While that might be a laudable premise in terms of which this bill might situate itself, unfortunately when you get into some of the detail of the bill I think it crosses over from addressing those issues in relation to potential risks or threats to our community from the top-end terrorist type of assaults that could happen in our state.
Rightly so we all agree that we must do what we can to ensure that people are as safe as they can possibly be in terms of that risk mitigation. I certainly agree with that as well, but what this bill does is go beyond that. Unfortunately that is where I start to have some of the problems that I have, like when you talk about trafficable quantities of unregistered firearms.
That sounds like a substantial problem that certainly should have laws around it, but when you actually break it down in terms of what that really means, the intent, while it sounds good, starts to impact on ordinary firearm users who use their firearms in a very lawful way and do all the right things in terms of storage, licensing, handling and the use of their firearms. I think this legislation actually goes too far in terms of interfering with the law-abiding licensed firearm owner and user.
I might just go through some of those problems, as I see them, so that we can put those on the record and point out some of the problems that occur. When this bill goes into committee I might ask a couple of questions in relation to that at a later time. One of the significant elements of this bill is the nature of the chief commissioner's role in bringing about an order in relation to a person that is referred to as 'a prohibited person' in terms of owning or possessing firearms. I want to touch base on that, but I also want to touch base on some of the other aspects of those prohibition orders — the way they are administered, the way they are implemented by Victoria Police and some of the methods that might be used in terms of undertaking those particular orders.
If you look at some of the detail that is actually contained within the bill, the chief commissioner is able to delegate their powers to others who are somewhat down the rank within the police force in terms of being able to put in place these prohibition orders around a certain individual. That might sound great in theory, but I think in practice that is opening it up too broadly, where less senior ranking police officers would be able to use the discretionary powers that are in place under this legislation to prohibit someone from having a lawful firearm. In terms of the reasoning as to why those prohibition orders are put in place, the discretionary element of this bill, I think, is too open-ended. People could be impacted wrongly as a result of this legislation under the suspicion of a middle-ranking police officer and under the guise that there could be a risk to public safety. I do not think there are strong enough regulations in place in terms of outlining why those prohibition orders might be put in place. Having the discretionary powers that are so wideranging in this area is going too far and could impact unnecessarily on lawful gun owners who have not done too much wrong. For the Chief Commissioner of Police to actually be able to delegate that down to middle-ranking police officers is a step too far. I am happy that our amendment that we have brought forward, which would make that power available to assistant commissioners as the minimum rank, proposes a sensible outcome that we could put in place that might address that issue.
One of the other amendments that we will certainly be putting in place is in relation to appeals being made to the Magistrates Court rather than to VCAT. I think that is a reasonable aspect of this bill that we will put in place as well. In terms of having those powers to ensure that someone is not able to possess a firearm, if there are reasonable grounds for that and there is evidence that is very clear then I think most people would say that that is pretty reasonable. But under this legislation it is discretionary, so therefore that burden of having the proof and evidence to substantiate that prohibition order being put in place needs to be strengthened from my point of view. We all know that there are certain people out there who may, for whatever reason, annoy a particular police officer and that police officer may decide that they wish to ensure that that person is put on this prohibition list. I think that would be the wrong outcome, because there could be circumstances which do not necessitate that prohibition being put in place in the first place.
One of the other aspects of the bill that I am a little concerned about is that if someone has got a prohibition order against them they are not allowed to go into another premises where a firearm is stored. Again that sounds reasonable, but if someone has a prohibition order against them they may not know, if they go to visit the next door neighbour or their cousins or whoever, whether there are firearms stored on the premises that they are actually going to. So they could be inadvertently breaking the law without actually even realising it, when they are doing something as harmless as going and visiting a family member. That is something I am a bit worried about, because quite a lot of licensed firearm owners have got a gun safe that could be in the garage or in the house somewhere, and you do not put a sign up on the front gate saying that you have got firearms stored on the premises. And if someone under this prohibition order goes to one of those premises they will not know, and therefore they could inadvertently be breaking the law, and the penalties in place are quite strict. I think that is one area that I do have a problem with.
The other amendment that we will be putting up is in relation to bringing the prohibition order from 10 years down to five years. Under this provision to prohibit someone for up to 10 years is a very, very long time. As we have already established, the burden of proof in terms of why someone has been put on a prohibition order is not strongly stated, and there are discretionary elements that are a part of instigating that prohibition order being placed on an individual.
I think that is something that will be beneficial as well. After five years, if someone is on one of those prohibition orders, the police will certainly be in a position to determine whether that person is a significant risk to public safety or a significant risk in terms of any terrorism-related activities that may or may not occur. I think within five years the police would be very well positioned in terms of all the work that they do — the surveillance work and whatever other work they do behind the scenes, and most of us will never know exactly what that is — and all the powers, regulations, laws and tools at their disposal to enable them to well and truly establish that within five years. The additional five years is unnecessary in this regard. And if police do actually ascertain that that person is a risk, they will have other tools at their disposal to be able to undertake the necessary requirements from their end to ensure that the community is kept safe.
In terms of that, they are some of the concerns that I have with this piece of legislation. There are other more specific issues that I would certainly like to raise when we get into the committee stage of this bill, but I support the amendments that have been circulated by Mr O'Donohue. I look forward to being able to continue to advocate on behalf of legal, responsible firearm owners and users to ensure that they can go about their recreation or their agricultural activities without having undue influence from laws that are intended to assist in the fight against terrorism. But I will continue to ensure wherever I can that those sorts of laws do not impact licensed firearm owners who are law-abiding citizens, who do the right thing whenever they can. We do not want a situation where we put in rules that are so strict that they start putting law-abiding firearm users in a position where it is almost impossible for them to go out and enjoy the recreation that they pursue or where farmers do not have the tools at their disposal that they need to undertake their agricultural pursuits. With those words, we look forward to taking this bill into committee.