Interview with Linda Mottram
24 January 2013
Topics: Western Sydney gun crime
LINDA MOTTRAM: So recently the Prime Minister tasked Jason Clare, who, of course, is the member for Blaxland here in Sydney, with a new job, on top of his role as Home Affairs Minister, looking at the violence in south western Sydney in particular.
Just wondering if he can give us some idea of what that’s going to involve because I know he’s already been involved quite closely with New South Wales’ Government ministers on some of these issues.
Jason Clare joins us this morning. Thank you for your time Minister.
JASON CLARE: Good morning Linda and a Happy New Year.
LINDA MOTTRAM: And to you. Nick Kaldas said to us this morning he’s unsure exactly what the Federal Government’s position is on battling gun crime in western Sydney, your role. Can you clarify, please?
JASON CLARE: Well, we’ve seen over a hundred shootings in the last year in western Sydney and now we’ve got people being killed. I think the New South Wales Police are doing a good job.
They’ve got a very, very tough job here, but it’s obvious that there’s more that we can do, more that needs to be done to make our streets safer and the Prime Minister’s asked me to look at what the Federal Government can do to help out.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Now, this is an area you were already working in though. I remember talking to you about this last year. What’s different?
JASON CLARE: Well, that’s right. Last year we put a package to State police ministers to tackle the illegal firearms market. We’ve got about a quarter of a million illegal firearms out there in the hands of criminals and we put together a package to go out there and seize those weapons, as well as improve the legislation that’s necessary to make sure that we get these weapons out of criminals’ hands.
But there is more that we can do. There’s three things. One, we’ve got to take a very serious approach at the serious and organised criminals, see what more action we can take working together to lock them up and to seize their assets, take the money off them that drives all of this crime.
But it’s also important to look at what we can do stop young people from getting involved in crime in the first place and get involved in that revolving door of prison. So they’re three big areas where I think our focus needs to be.
LINDA MOTTRAM: So do you or the states not have sufficient powers to lock up organised criminals and seize assets?
JASON CLARE: Well, criminals don’t respect borders. They move from state to state, a lot of these gangs are national gangs or international gangs. Firearms move from state to state as well.
One of the things that the Federal Government can do that states can’t is implement national laws to make sure that there’s no soft spots around the country or no safe havens where criminals can hide or where they can hide their assets.
So, national laws are important. Last year I asked the states to give the Commonwealth the power implement national anti-gang laws. Unfortunately that was rejected but I still think that’s an important thing that can be done.
I also asked the states to give the Commonwealth the power to introduce national unexplained wealth laws to make it easier to seize their assets and seize the money of big time crooks. Following the money is the way to catch a lot of these crooks.
The states rejected that, but I think that that is very important if we’re going to make inroads here in arresting the serious criminals that are responsible for a lot of this violence.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Well, if you weren’t able to get agreement from the states on those issues last year, what makes you think you’ll get that now?
JASON CLARE: Well, when peoples’ houses are being shot up and people are being shot and killed – and this is not just criminals shooting criminals, there’s a real risk here that innocent people are going to be killed or injured – think it’s incumbent upon all of us to work together.
Our police do a really good job working together. I work very closely with Mike Gallacher and the other police ministers in this area. We’ve got a great working relationship and people, whether you live in western Sydney or whether you live in Western Australia, don’t care about who’s in charge of this area. They just want us to work together to make sure they’ve got the strongest possible laws to get the crooks off the street.
So, I think that’s an area we need to revisit and see if we can introduce stronger national laws to tackle serious criminals and get their assets to make it harder for them to do the things they’re doing.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, is on the line with us this morning, talking about how to deal with violent crime, gun crime, in south western Sydney.
On the text, Minister [inaudible] has just made the very point I was going to put to you which is why doesn’t the Government just stop the guns at the borders? What is wrong with our borders that these illegal weapons are coming in?
JASON CLARE: We’re now seizing double the amount of drugs and other contraband that we were five years ago. So there’s good work being done by our border agencies. The point I’d make here is that that’s one part of a very large illegal firearms market.
The domestic market is huge. You’ve got a quarter of a million illegal firearms in Australia at the moment.
LINDA MOTTRAM: So you’re saying being traded domestically…
JASON CLARE: That’s right.
LINDA MOTTRAM: …within our borders?
JASON CLARE: That’s right. These are firearms which the Crime Commission reported last year weren’t handed in after the Port Arthur massacre or are being stolen from legitimate owners and are in the hands of crooks. In New South Wales, for example, we’ve got about ten firearms being stolen a week. About seven thousand firearms were stolen over the last decade and not recovered.
So for a lot of those criminals out there, they don’t need to try and import a weapon because there’s so many here already.
It is true that criminals do try and import firearms but it’s one part of a bigger market.
One firearm being imported is one too many and that’s why last year I established a Firearms Intelligence Targeting Team inside Customs and I think we talked about that last year.
It’s had some recent success. Working with the New South Wales police and the FBI, they smashed a racket in Nashville recently and arrested three people in the United States and a couple of people here in Australia. So that’s the sort of work that’s now taking place.
LINDA MOTTRAM: The other question that I think made people raise eyebrows was Australia Post delivering up guns last year, that story about – was it three hundred-odd guns that were sent through Australia Post, ending up at Sylvania Waters.
Is that sort of thing an ongoing concern or have you closed a loophole there?
JASON CLARE: Well, those people have been arrested.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Yes, but I mean, could others do it?
JASON CLARE: Well, I think the effort of the New South Wales Police working with the Crime Commission and Customs shows that that’s very high risk.
We search something like forty million parcels every year, over a hundred thousand containers, and about one-and-a-half million pieces of air cargo.
LINDA MOTTRAM: That’s way short of what actually comes in though, isn’t it?
JASON CLARE: Well, it’s targeted testing. About eighty-five per cent of the drugs and the guns that are seized at the border are based on intelligence that we get from police, State and Federal, before something ever leaves Asia or Europe or America and arrives in Australia.
So intel is the key. We target the parcels based on the intelligence we get from police and it’s reaping results. As I said, we’re seizing double now than we were five years ago.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Can people have confidence that governments in this country can work together on this issue? After all, you’ve said that you’ve had problems getting some of your key measures past the states.
JASON CLARE: Look, I think you can because I think all politicians understand that unless we do work together, it’s only the criminals that are going to win. We put together a big package of reforms with the state ministers last year
What I’m saying is that there’s more that needs to be done here in illegal firearms, in focusing on serious organised crime and stopping young people from getting involved in crime in the first place.
LINDA MOTTRAM: And on that last question, we spoke to Nick Kaldas earlier. He’s been very closely involved with communities trying to work with them on some of the social issues. Should the Federal Government put more of its focus on that front?
JASON CLARE: We’ll, it’s one of the things that I’m looking at. The primary responsibility for this area is the state, the state governments, but I do think there’s a role for the Federal Government here to help out and support.
One of the things that the Federal Government can do that the states can’t do is bring all of the states together to make sure that you’ve got consistency across the country, that where there is something that works in one state, we roll it out in other states.
The other thing that the Federal Government can do that the states can’t is work with international organisations, the FBI, the United States Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Organisation as well. So they’re the sorts of things that we can do that can add value here and the objective here is to make our streets safer, to stop the shootings that are going on and stop people from getting involved in crime in the first place.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Just on the drugs question, Minister, finally. Last year there was a major report by some pretty, you know, serious high level powerful individuals in this country saying look, the current approach to drugs prohibition is not working, we need to rethink it.
Are you going to put to the Prime Minister that the Federal Government ought to take that seriously, take that on board, as part of this strategy?
JASON CLARE: The short answer to that, Linda, is no. I think people that are involved in the drug trade, these serious criminals that are importing drugs into Australia, need the book thrown at them.
We need to take a very hard line approach to them and to the muscle and violent criminals behind them. But we do need to take a different approach to the people who are the victims of these drugs. They’ve all got brothers and sisters, mums and dads. Some of them have got children.
I can think of nothing worse than a phone call in the middle of the night and being told that one of your loved ones has just had a drug overdose and died. That’s why things like the safe injecting room in New South Wales are an idea worth trialling and testing because it’s saving peoples’ lives.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Not repealing drug prohibition which arguably would remove the incentives for criminals to be involved?
JASON CLARE: You would still have an illegal market. You would still have criminals involved in the drug market. Of that you can be certain.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Okay. Jason Clare, good to talk to you. Thank you very much for your time.
JASON CLARE: Thanks, Linda. Thanks very much.
– ENDS –