Joint Press Conference with State and Territory Police Ministers – Melbourne

Topic: Reforms to tackle the illegal firearms market

PETER RYAN: I have with me today the Federal Minister for Justice, Jason Clare and we are surrounded by the other Ministers for Police and Emergencies from around Australia.

This is a meeting of the standing committee of these respects of ministers who deals with issues to deal with – not surprisingly – police and emergency services. We’ve had extensive discussion this morning in relation to issues around the illicit firearms and their control in Australia. The way in which we are better able to deal with the problems that arise through illicit firearms being sold and otherwise distributed throughout or nation and across our respective jurisdictions. We have made significant advances in the conversations that we’ve had this morning. This will mean there are a number of initiatives that are going to be advanced arising out of this discussion which will see additional pressure brought on those who trade in illicit firearms.

I might say this conversation has also happened in a circumstance where we are very respectful of and aware of the rights and entitlements of those who are legitimate firearms owners and who are licensed for the use of firearms. The concentration of this conversation today has been on those who engage in the use of, the acquisition of illicit firearms, very particularly for criminal activity.

Now I’ll ask Minister Clare to make some observations about today’s discussions and then we’re happy to take questions on those particular matters. If there are additional issues that you wish to explore you can take them up with individual ministers as you may see fit. Minister Clare.

JASON CLARE: Okay. Well thanks Peter. Today we are announcing a series of major reforms to tackle the illegal firearms market. This is a great example of the States and Federal Government working together. It’s a great example of Labor and Liberal Governments working together. In February I announced a major investigation into the illegal firearms market to be headed by the Australian Crime Commission, and they’ve presented their final report to us today. What it tells us is that there are about quarter of a million illegal firearms out there today. They include firearms that weren’t handed in after Port Arthur. They include firearms that have been stolen from legitimate firearms owners. They include firearms that have been deactivated. They include firearms that have been diverted by crooked dealers. They include illegal imports and they include backyard manufacturing of firearms.

Now to tackle this, you’ve got to tackle it from every single direction. That means making it easier to seize these weapons, breaking the code of silence that terrifies people to tell the police where firearms are or who might be responsible for shooting at houses, it means improving our ability to trace weapons, it means improving our registry system as well. It means strengthening our laws and hardening our borders. That’s what we’ve agreed to do today. I’ll give you an example of just some of things that we’ve agreed in our meeting this morning.

The Federal Government will now introduce legislation to create a maximum penalty of life in jail for people that are involved in the aggravated trafficking of firearms into Australia, or the trafficking of firearms across State and Territory borders. We’ve also agreed in principle to roll out the IBIS system across the country. This is a ballistic system that gives police the power to be able to do what is effectively a fingerprint of a firearm, and trace it or link it to crimes that have been committed across the country. It already occurs in NSW, it already occurs in the ACT. The Federal Police have this power as well. We’ve agreed in principle to the idea of rolling this out across the country.

We’ve also agreed in principle to the idea of establishing a national firearms register. At the moment, there are about thirty different registers across the country that hold information about firearms. Fourteen thousand firearms slip through the cracks or fall off registers every year, so this is an important reform that we’re going to work on over the course of the next twelve months.

Among the other things that we’ve agreed to is the importance of training and improving the skills and the capabilities of State, Federal and Territory police. As part of that I’ve agreed to fund the United States Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Agency coming to Australia to provide Federal, State and Territory police with more skills, more training, and more capability to trace and track firearms.

This is a big package. It’s not going to lead to a fix overnight, but the things that we have agreed to today are going to leave a lasting legacy. They’re going to help us tackle that illegal firearms market of more than a quarter of a million illegal firearms that are out there today.

It’s only happened because of the good work of the people behind me. I want to pay a special tribute to the work of Minister Peter Ryan. I want to pay a special tribute to work of Minister Mike Gallacher from NSW, and I want to pay a special tribute to the work of all the ministers here behind me. State and Federal Governments working together across the political divide has managed to put this package together to help us tackle the illegal firearms market. It’s also been done with the work of the Police Commissioners across the country, and I want to thank them as well for all their work in putting this important package of reforms together.

PETER RYAN: I just wanted to add that these initiatives have been developed in the circumstance where they are focused on illicit firearms. We are very concerned to ensure there were no further impositions on those who are the registered owners of firearms, who are pursuing their sport in a completely legal and proper and appropriate manner. That is not what this is about. This is about making an attack on a concerted basis from a Federal and State’s perspective upon those who indulge in the use of illicit firearms.

JASON CLARE: I can confirm and endorse that as well. As Peter has said, these reforms are directed at the criminals, at the people that are involved in using weapons to commit crime. None of the reforms that we’ve agreed to today are designed to target or make life more difficult for legitimate, registered firearm owners.

PETER RYAN: Okay. Now if anybody has a question now’s the time otherwise we’re going to resume our meeting.

QUESTION: Can you tell us more about these firearms that have been illegally manufactured in backyards?

JASON CLARE: Well, it’s one of the ways in which criminals get access to weapons – either putting different parts of weapons together or managing to put a new barrel on a firearm as well. Criminals are cunning and they’re pretty smart, whether it’s manufacturing drugs in backyards, in clan labs, or whether it’s making firearms or manufacturing different parts of firearms in backyards, which happens as well. Police are focusing on that, like they focus on all of the ways that criminals get access firearms.

MIKE GALLACHER: Can I just add to that? Just that one part of it. What we’ve seen in NSW is the ability for parts to be brought together. They look inconsequential in isolation. They don’t look like anything. But when the parts are brought together in a backyard by organised criminals they can construct very highly effective, high level firearms. These announcements today I can assure you are welcomed by NSW. We have had for a number of years now a problem in relation to drive-by shootings, targeted drive-by shootings. These announcements recognise that guns and criminals do not adhere to postcodes or state boundaries. If we’re got a problem in NSW and we’ve got a problem here in Melbourne, we’re got a problem in Perth; we’re got a problem right around the nation.

This announcement today, with all of the Ministers working together, is a signal to the community that we are going to get serious about illicit use of firearms, in the hands of organised criminals in particular. It sends a message to those criminals that we’re going to do absolutely everything we can as a national group of police ministers, State and Federal, to target you and lock you up. We’re going to restrict your ability to get access to firearms, but at the same time we’re going to recognise that law abiding firearm owners should not be targeted as a result of the way in which people have been able to get their hands on illicit firearms and use them against the community. It’s about striking a balance. We’ve had a number of hours debate about that this morning. It is very encouraging to see all political persuasions participating in this debate to ensure that we get a national outcome. At the end of the day the winner’s the community because we are committed to getting a safer community right throughout this country.

QUESTION: You also mentioned illegal imports. What proportion of the illegal weapons out there are coming in from overseas?

JASON CLARE: The work that the Crime Commission’s done, and they’ve done trace analysis on over three thousand weapons, has shown that about 0.5 per cent of the weapons they traced are illegal imports. The vast majority of the weapons they traced were weapons that weren’t handed in after Port Arthur, and after that weapons that have been stolen from legitimate owners.

JASON CLARE: All right.

FEMALE: Thank you.