MS TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) (11:47:02) — I rise to sum up and provide some points of clarification that have been asked of me by members of the house, but prior to doing that I ask that the house amendment I will move in my name be circulated. This is an amendment that deals with a typographical error in clause 22.
Government amendments circulated by Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) pursuant to standing orders.
Ms TIERNEY — The Andrews Labor government knows the harm that is caused by illegal firearm use and firearm crime in this state. Firearm prohibition orders (FPOs) are designed to apply before the event so that police can quickly and proactively disrupt dynamic and intricate criminal activity where there is sufficient intelligence that particular persons should not have access to firearms.
There have been 155 non-fatal shootings for the two financial years of 2015–16 and 2016–17. Individuals associated with these non-fatal shootings will be likely candidates for an FPO. Those figures do not account for drive-by shootings and armed crime occurring at businesses and homes, the incidence of which has been rising since 2011. This illegal offending is being driven by serious and organised criminals whose business models and ways of operating challenge policing methods. FPOs will be targeted at these groups as well as persons of interest in counterterrorism cases. For example, FPOs are likely to be issued against members of outlaw motorcycle gangs and organised crime groups, where a culture of insular secrecy and intimidation limits the ability of police to break the cone of silence.
Significantly the use of illegal firearms is increasing among networked youth offenders and gang members. The prevalence of illegal firearms in the community is a significant concern relative to community safety. The increased illegal firearm possession is driven by the ability of firearms that are illegally imported into Australia or stolen from licensed owners. The increased use of firearms has been attributed to organised crime figures, with a significant driver being the propensity of rival Middle Eastern organised crime figures to intentionally use non-fatal shootings as a warning, or punishment, for transgressions in connection with the illicit drug trade. Police indicate that shootings as a form of intimidation and retribution are likely to escalate in severity in the next one to two years. Gun violence between rival groups to resolve disputes and drug-related activity will continue to be an issue for Victoria Police and community safety.
Increased illicit firearm possession is driven by the ease of availability of handguns, semiautomatic rifles, shotguns and increasingly military grade weapons that are smuggled into Australia or stolen from licensed owners.
The criteria for making an FPO have been left in broad terms in order to provide the Chief Commissioner of Police with the operational flexibility to proactively and quickly respond to fluid, serious criminality, intricate criminal enterprises and counterterrorism-related operations. Given the variability of conduct within these groups, the grounds provide a high degree of flexibility. Victoria Police will develop policies for the consistent application of FPOs.
Victoria Police has already commenced work to develop policies which will be accompanied by extensive training and strong communication so that police are educated and aware of their powers and the consequences of misuse. The intention is to adopt a model similar to New South Wales police who use a tiered approach to both the issuing of FPOs and subsequent FPO-related searches. Under that model any action taken will be governed by criminal intelligence investigations, as well as necessity where imminent threats are likely to place the Victorian community at risk, for example, in a counterterrorism scenario. Assessments on a case-by-case basis will determine how the powers are used.
Additionally, IBAC will monitor the application of the legislation and associated powers under a strong oversight model. This will be coupled with reporting requirements and other appropriate safeguards.
On the issue of safeguards it is worth noting that the checks and balances proposed are significantly more stringent and onerous than those currently in operation in New South Wales. Importantly the licensing system and the prohibited person regime in the Firearms Act 1996 are being maintained. If the person satisfies the grounds for the chief commissioner, or delegate, to make the FPO, it could be made against a person who holds a firearms licence. That would indicate that they are not a legitimate licence-holder. We know the important role that legitimate firearms owners play in our community, and they are not being targeted by these orders, which are intended to ensure firearms never fall into the hands of dangerous criminals who would do our community harm.
The FPO regime is not designed to replace or displace the existing regulatory system. The regulatory scheme for firearms will continue to operate to safeguard the interests of legitimate firearm-owning community members. The FPO regime is designed to address the challenges of individuals who, through their criminal activity, choose to operate outside the regulatory system.
During the debate in the Legislative Assembly Mr Clark queried whether the subject of an FPO could go to a police station, for example, to report a crime, or go to the home of a relative who stores firearms at their residence. Victoria Police has advised that they have discretion in these matters, and it is in no way the intention that a person subject to an FPO would be charged for attending a police station in the instance that they are reporting a crime.
I must emphasise again that the government’s expectation is that the chief commissioner uses these orders to focus on serious criminal activity. FPOs are a tough new measure that will allow Victoria Police to proactively and quickly disrupt serious criminal activity associated with illicit use of firearms. However, it is the view of Victoria Police that allowing an FPO subject to be on the premises where firearms are normally stored would undermine the effectiveness of the FPO scheme and the protection of the community. The premises could include residential locations where a licensed firearm owner stores firearms. There are a variety of alternative firearm storage arrangements that may be utilised, such as storing with a licensed firearms dealer, or at another firearms licence-holder’s premises. The firearms would then no longer be stored at a residence, and the individual that is subject to an FPO would no longer be prohibited from residing at such premises, or visiting relatives who own firearms because the firearms would be stored off-site.
Just briefly, there were a number of other matters raised and I will quickly go to some of them. In response to comments in relation to proposed section 130(2A)(g), I can advise that the exemptions only apply if the person holds a firearms licence and the possession, carrying or use of the firearm is in accordance with the firearms licence, and any other authority that applies to the use, possession and carriage of the firearm. For example, police and armed security guards, such as Armaguard employees replenishing Myki machines, would be able to walk down the Melbourne CBD with loaded firearms, which they can do now.
As is currently the case, if someone has a firearms licence for hunting, the carriage, use and possession of the firearm has to be for that purpose, as approved by other authorities that regulate hunting in Victoria. Therefore the status quo is maintained.
The rationale for these provisions was the increase of non-fatal shootings between rival gangs at public locations such as shopping centres and a car park outside of a suburban Officeworks. Another example was the shooting of constables Ashmole and Wospil at close range in a school car park — I think that was in Essendon — by two criminals who had been released from prison only a short time prior. Constable Ashmole was shot in the head and was lucky to survive, although he now lives with severe headaches and the constant reminder of the incident through several pellets that could not be removed from his skull.
On the possession of firearm parts and manufacturing equipment, these terms are already in the Firearms Act and are not defined. They will continue to have the ordinary and current meaning within the context of the act. Merely possessing a part or equipment does not establish the offence. To be an offence the part or equipment must be possessed for the purpose of manufacturing a firearm or other part. Advice from Victoria Police is that buck plates, cheek pieces and chokes would not be firearm parts as they are not necessary for the firearm to function. Increasingly Victoria Police are coming across instances of possession of equipment to manufacture illicit firearms, particularly among outlaw motorcycle gang members, who have been found to possess handgun moulds and detailed blueprints for gun manufacture. Blueprints can be easily downloaded from the internet, and while possession of them is not illegal, they provide a step-by-step guide to enable even inexperienced people to make unsophisticated yet highly dangerous firearms.
Some members have also asked what can be done to speed up the licensing process to ensure people do not exhaust the 13 unlicensed shoots that they are permitted under the Firearms Act. Victoria Police processes applications as quickly as possible, but there are necessary checks that have to be run to ensure the suitability of the person. This is the case even with junior shooters. By and large the junior applications are not so complex. Victoria Police is a responsive regulator, and it will continue to promote greater efficiencies in the administration of firearm regulations.
As the Assembly debates canvassed, this is about where the appropriate balance is for enabling a person to try out a sport and ensuring the licensing system is not evaded or subverted. Thirteen unlicensed shoots over a person’s life gives juniors more opportunity to try out the sport while not undermining the licensing system. Thirteen shoots also gives adults ample scope to participate in events and functions involving supervised pistol shoots. This change was requested by the Victorian Amateur Pistol Association and was included in the Justice Legislation Amendment (Firearms and Other Matters) Bill 2014, which lapsed when the previous Parliament expired.
In respect of this bill I thank other members for their contributions so far, and I look forward to discussions in committee. I understand that there are a number of amendments from the coalition and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. I am sure that we will work through those matters in a time-effective way. Thank you.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.
Business interrupted pursuant to sessional orders.