Firearms Amendment (Silencers) Bill 2018


Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan)  — I rise to make a contribution on the private members Firearms Amendment (Silencers) Bill 2018 introduced by Mr Bourman. The main purposes of the bill are to amend the Firearms Act 1996 to establish a system permitting the possession, use, carriage and acquisition of silencers; to establish a system of registering silencers; and to establish requirements for the secure storage of silencers. They are the technical purposes of the bill, but I suppose the real purpose of the bill is to expand the eligibility for possession of a silencer.

As Ms Symes and Mr O'Donohue have already outlined but I will repeat, noise suppressors or silencers are regulated under the Firearms Act — section 57, as Mr O'Donohue was saying — and in Victoria silencers cannot be possessed, carried or used without a permit granted by the Chief Commissioner of Police or his or her delegate, as delegated by the Parliament. The persons who are eligible at the moment include government departments — particularly the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning — licensed firearms dealers, manufacturers of silencers, professional hunters and persons who work as subcontractors for professional hunting organisations, professional vermin control businesses, theatrical armourers, veterinarians, wildlife shelters or zoological employers. That is quite a lot. That is quite a large list of people who are already eligible to apply for a permit to possess a silencer and attach a silencer to their firearm or firearms.

I think from first principles the Greens would be saying we would not want to see that list be expanded at all. The reasons are really the issue of safety of persons in the vicinity where a firearm is being discharged. We know from the report of the inquiry into the control of invasive animals on Crown land that the police outlined their concerns with regard to silencers being more readily available, being less regulated and falling into the hands of criminal organisations.

In my contribution to the debate on a recent firearms bill in this place, where the government — with the support of everybody in the chamber — tightened up the rules of trafficking of firearms, I made the point that one of the areas where there is quite a lot of concern is on the importation of parts of firearms. I will not repeat what I said — people can go back and have a look at that — but it remains a concern where firearms are actually being imported into Australia in parts and are slipping through customs. I think that is another issue that is of concern with regard to silencers.

The points that were being made in the committee with regard to that inquiry were that if people in the vicinity in rural areas where firearms are being discharged cannot hear the firearms being discharged, they are not sure where they are coming from. That is clearly a safety issue. It is a safety issue in and of itself with the number of people who are on public land as it is. For example, recreational hunters of deer — not to mention recreational shooters, because I would not call shooting ducks any type of a hunting activity; it is just a blast-them-out-of-the-sky activity — would not have a problem with exposing their hearing to damage if they did not actually participate in that activity. I think the government can assist in that regard by bringing in a ban on duck shooting, as it is banned across the country. That would take out that hazard for that cohort of occasional shooters, because they are certainly not hunting throughout the year. It is only the three months of the duck shooting season that they are exposing themselves to the sound of shotguns.

They are also exposing the people who live around those wetlands to incessant shotgun noise over those three months. There have been quite a lot of reports from local people in the rural and regional media of late who have spoken up about this issue. The sound of gunshots is an occupational health and safety hazard — I agree — to a person who is discharging a firearm, but they can of course know they are going to discharge the firearm and put in place the hearing protection that is widely available, as Ms Symes pointed out, in terms of earplugs and/or earmuffs. But the people who live around there have no control over when those firearms are going to be discharged, and they do start from sunrise and can go through to sunset for three months of the year. There are a lot of people who are exposed to that noise who are becoming more vocal in their objections to being exposed to that noise.

But back to the point, which is about the safety of people in the vicinity who are unable to ascertain from where a shot is being fired. Of course this becomes much more of a problem in a metropolitan or built-up area where a criminal may have access to a firearm and a silencer and chooses to discharge that in that metropolitan area. That is an obvious hazard for any people in that vicinity, including the police.

The police have made it very clear — and I do not intend to repeat what Ms Symes and Mr O'Donohue have already read into Hansard from the inquiry — not only in this inquiry but in other public statements that I have seen them make, that they do not support widening the eligibility of silencers to any other groups other than those that are already there. As I previously said, I think that is already quite a wide group of people who are eligible.

I am quite surprised really that as a former policeman Mr Bourman — I know this is an area that he has been prosecuting for a while — is not aware of the great concern of the police with regard to this issue and their lack of support for his advocacy in this area. Of course we have had the Victorian Farmers Federation this morning also saying they do not support it. There is not a lot of support for this particular move, and of course there is not, because it puts at risk public safety, and that is really the bottom line with regard to that.

Can I say too with regard to this private members bill that this is not an isolated move but it is part of a concerted strategy and campaign to wind back the gun laws in Australia that has been going on particularly in the last 10 years across the parliaments of Australia. This is a campaign that is well funded by the gun lobby and gun importers. You do not have to look very far to find out the amounts of money that certain gun importers with certain relationships to certain politicians across the country are actually —

An honourable member interjected.

Ms PENNICUIK — I am not making anything but a general comment here about what I can easily find out with half an hour of looking around. I do know that there has been a winding back of the gun laws state by state. Tasmania was the latest one to go down that road; Victoria has. In the time I have been here there has been a winding back of the numbers of bona fide competitions that sporting shooters have to be involved in to prove, to demonstrate, that they actually do need to have a firearm because they do actually compete in sporting shooting competitions and that they do not just register with the sporting shooting club and not actually ever compete in competitions.

Those particular provisions were put in as part of the National Firearms Agreement to make it difficult for people to actually obtain a permit to have a firearm. That was the point: to make it difficult and to make sure people had to jump through a few hoops, to put it that way, to prove that they actually were a bona fide sporting shooter. So that is what has happened here. But across the country as a result of lobbying by the gun lobby, including gun manufacturers and firearms and parts manufacturers, that is what we have been seeing happening. Of all people, Tim Fischer has come out saying he is deeply concerned about the emergence of what he has described as a US-inspired firearms lobby.

Mr Bourman interjected.

Ms PENNICUIK — Mr Bourman might scoff at that, but as I have said, there is a well-funded and organised gun lobby with ties to weapons importers and manufacturers and they are supporting this type of campaign.

I think Australians should be concerned about it, because we have seen a winding back, as I said, of the gun laws in the states, piece by piece. For example, one obvious one is that under the National Firearms Agreement no person under 18 should be able to hold and discharge a firearm. In Western Australia there is no actual age limit. In Victoria, children as young as 12 can go out with a shotgun into the wetlands and discharge a shotgun at a native waterbird. I find that unacceptable. I do not think any child of 12 years should be in charge of a firearm, whether or not someone is so-called supervising them.

In Queensland, for example, gun owners can be licensed for 10 years, which is double the time limit in the national agreement. In Western Australia, gun owner safety training is not required by law as it is in the other states et cetera. We do as a community need to be very aware that there is a campaign by the gun lobby, by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and by their supporters to weaken Australia's gun laws, and we do that at our peril. They have already been weakened over the last 10 years, bit by bit, state by state. That is what I see this as part of, and the Greens cannot possibly support it.