Interview with Linda Mottram, ABC Sydney – 17 April 2012

Topics: Sydney shootings, Afghanistan withdrawal

LINDA MOTTRAM: Well, what are we to make of the daily diet of shootings in Sydney? Seventeen in the past fortnight or, to echo a commercial TV headline last night, ten in ten days. More today, including one in Baulkham Hills which surprised me because that seems to be outside the more common sort of west south west focus. Maybe that sort of regional focus isn’t really relevant at all. So what is happening? We keep asking that question, don’t we? More to the point, what can be done? Well, the Federal Home Affairs Minister is Jason Clare, a Cabramatta boy. He’s written about the shootings in The Daily Telegraph today and he joins me on the line. Minister, thanks very much for your time.

JASON CLARE: Good morning, Linda.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Why are there so many shootings in Sydney at the moment?

JASON CLARE: Well, the bad news is that there are a lot of guns out there and there are a lot of criminals who are using them to either settle scores or deal with their enemies that are involved in the drug trade or other criminal business. We’re seeing it – I should just add, we’re seeing it more in Sydney than in other parts of the country.

LINDA MOTTRAM: So there is something peculiar – something particular about the Sydney scenario, you think?

JASON CLARE: Well, you’ve got criminals in Sydney who think that they can do business or settle scores by using a gun. And there are plenty of guns out there. It makes it easy for them, if they want to use a gun, get their hands on one.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Is it a gang war, is there an element of that going on? It doesn’t seem to be, but is – what’s your sense of it?

JASON CLARE: Well, it’s organised criminals. You mentioned Cabramatta. I grew up in Cabramatta, I saw the heartache that heroin caused there. That was a case of organised criminals that were making a lot of money by selling drugs and shooting people in the process as well. I think what we’ve got here is something similar. People that are dealing in drugs and are trying to make sure that they protect their own markets and stop other people from getting involved.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Okay, so you think there is a parallel with the past experience in Cabramatta.

JASON CLARE: Well, you’ve got different criminal groups but the problem remains the same, and that is criminals with guns who are trying to make a lot of money by selling drugs.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Okay. Governments spend a lot of money on law enforcement. How can a city like Sydney be awash with guns in 2012?

JASON CLARE: Well, it’s a good question and the answer to that is that there are tens of thousands of illegal guns here in Sydney and across the country. And they’ve been here for a long time. A lot of the guns that are being seized have been here for ten, twenty or thirty years and they don’t have a use-by date. Some of the guns that have been seized across the country in the last year are over a hundred years old. One of the guns seized recently was purchased, I think, in 1888.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Good God.

JASON CLARE: So it gives you an idea that once you’ve got a gun, it might run out of bullets but you can put more bullets back into it and continue to use the gun for a very long period of time. The other part of this is that in the last ten years, seven thousand guns have been stolen from legitimate owners in New South Wales and not recovered, and they’re guns that are out there on the street that criminals are using.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Yes. You’ve asked the Australian Crime Commission to do an intelligence assessment of the illegal firearms market. How is that going to help with putting an end to what you’re describing?

JASON CLARE: Well, for the simple reason that policing relies on intelligence, it relies on information. You see the NSW Police at the moment dealing with people that refuse to give up information, even people that are shot at are refusing to answer. If you want to seize guns or seize drugs, whether it’s on the streets or whether it’s at the border, the answer that state and federal police give me is that you need intelligence, you need information.

Let me give you an example. The recent arrest of individuals in Sylvania Waters was the result of one gun that was seized by the NSW Police being traced by the Crime Commission that led to those arrests. I’ve asked the Crime Commission to do that tracing analysis on all the guns that have been seized across the country over the last twelve months. That sort of intelligence, that sort of information will hopefully lead to more arrests and the seizure of more weapons.

LINDA MOTTRAM: My guest is Jason Clare, the Home Affairs Minister in the Gillard Government. Minister, is Customs sufficiently resourced for this task?

JASON CLARE: Well, this is an important part of it. Criminals do try to import weapons. It’s to date been ad hoc and a small part of this big black market, but Customs at the moment x-ray more than twenty million parcels every year and more than a hundred thousand shipping containers.

The point I made in that article today is that x-ray on its own is not enough because if someone wants to put the barrel of a gun into a box full of metal machinery parts, it’s very, very hard to identify. And again, the advice that I get from the Crime Commission and the Federal Police is that if you want to stop drugs getting into the country, if you want to stop terrorist material getting into the country, if you want to stop gun parts getting into the country you need the criminal intelligence. And that’s borne out by the statistics – ninety-six per cent of the drugs that we stop at the border are based on intelligence we get before the drug arrives in Australia.

And eighty-five per cent of the gun parts that we stop again is based on intelligence that we get before the gun or the gun part arrives in Australia which is why Customs have recommended to me setting up an intelligence targeting team, which will fuse together all the information we get from the New South Wales Police, other state police as well as the Crime Commission to target the criminal groups that might think they can penetrate the border.

LINDA MOTTRAM: What about state cooperation – state federal cooperation – is that effective? Do you need to do more?

JASON CLARE: There’s a lot of good work going on right now. The Crime Commission, Customs and the Federal Police work very closely with the New South Wales Police. And I’ve got to say, when I talk to State Police they speak very highly of federal agencies. But I think that we can do more in terms of sharing intelligence.

At the moment there are about fifteen different data bases that hold firearms information across the country. One of the recommendations that will come forward I suspect out of this work that the Crime Commission is doing is how do we fuse all of that information together so there’s a better sharing of intelligence.

As well as this targeting team that I’m setting up inside Customs I think that we need to have Customs people embedded inside the New South Wales Police Force so that we’re getting a better level of sharing of information. I’m working very well with the New South Wales Police Minister and the Federal Police work very closely with the New South Wales Police. So I think that should be able to happen.

LINDA MOTTRAM: So Federal Customs staff embedded in New South Wales Police?

JASON CLARE: We already have that with drugs and it works very well. It means that there’s a good sharing of information between federal and state agencies. The next step is to do that here.

LINDA MOTTRAM: To extend it to cover firearms is what you mean.

JASON CLARE: Yes, that’s right.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Now just on drugs – I mean one of the things that constantly the association is made – drugs, firearms, criminals, dah, dah, dah. One of the bits of the discussion nationally in recent weeks was about whether we decriminalise drugs. You know whether we change our whole view of drugs and remove that scenario from the criminal picture if you like. What’s your view on that?

JASON CLARE: Well, I don’t support decriminalisation just for the basic reason that I suspect it would lead to more people using dangerous drugs.

LINDA MOTTRAM: But it takes them out of the realm of the underworld doesn’t it?

JASON CLARE: You’d still have criminals that would want to be part of it I suspect. Whenever you legalise something you invariably still have major consequences for the community. Look at the implication or look at the consequences of cigarette smoking or the impact that alcohol has on our community as well.

My view on this is that you’ve got to target the criminals that are involved in the importation of heroin or cocaine or precursors and come down hard on them. And part of that is what New South Wales Police are doing in western Sydney right now. But also try and help the people who make a mistake or the people that become addicted to these wretched drugs.

So the injecting room in Kings Cross that was established over a decade ago is an important part of that. Everyone’s got a brother or a sister or a mum or a dad – just think if they got addicted to a drug like this. That centre has saved hundreds of lives I’m sure. So that’s an important part of dealing with a very, very complicated issue.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Okay, so intelligence sharing is your key message and I guess time will test whether we have any luck stopping the shootings in Sydney. If I can just ask you about the decision of the Federal Government to bring the troops home from Afghanistan as of next year – do you think that the job is done as it was envisaged?

JASON CLARE: I shouldn’t pre-empt what the Prime Minister has to say today…

LINDA MOTTRAM: Except she’s told all the newspapers already.

JASON CLARE: Well, what I can say – as one of the junior defence ministers I went to Afghanistan last year and as you know the job of the Australian troops there is to train up the Afghan Army – in particular the Fourth Brigade. The information I got from soldiers there that have been there three or four times is that those soldiers are getting better. They’re getting a lot better at their job. And as they get better we withdraw.

The purpose here is that we train up the Afghan Army to protect the Afghan people. If you think that the mission is to try and shoot your way out or kill every insurgent, that’s the wrong approach. That’s never going to work. You need to train up a domestic army – an Afghan Army – so that they can provide security for the Afghan people, and we’re making real progress in that regard. And as they get better the strategy that’s been in place not just by Australia but by all the countries that are there is to gradually draw down.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Thanks very much for your time today Minister – much appreciated.

JASON CLARE: Not at all. Thank you.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Cheers. Jason Clare is the Home Affairs Minister in the Gillard Government talking about his view overarching federal view of how to deal with lots and lots of guns on Sydney’s streets.