Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 10 Hansard (7 December) . . Page.. 2766 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
The Bill also proposes that certain items which are currently prohibited, namely silencers, may be licensed as dangerous weapons to those persons who are approved by the registrar and can establish that they have a genuine reason for using them. Specialised animal handlers, for example, may need silencers in order to carry out their work effectively. The Bill also requires that veterinary surgeons, who are currently exempted from the Act by virtue of their occupation, will have to satisfy the normal requirements in order to hold a dangerous weapons licence. These requirements apply to other occupational groups such as security guards, and there is no sound reason to distinguish veterinary surgeons.
This Bill also amends the current requirement for the registrar to refuse a licence to a person who has been convicted of an indictable offence in the past eight years. The policy of this legislation is to restrict the availability of guns to those persons who are not considered fit to hold them, particularly violent offenders. As the Assembly is aware, the Liberal Government is of the view that it is not reasonable, on the whole, to include fit and proper person tests in legislation without giving a corresponding definition of what it is that will determine whether someone satisfies that test. To that end, my department is currently working toward the development of alternatives to the fit and proper person tests for inclusion in relevant legislation. In this instance, however, I do not think there are reasonable grounds to object to the fit and proper person test as it relates to the proposed amendment.
The amendment makes it mandatory for the registrar to refuse a licence where the offence involved violence or the use of a weapon, but leaves it to the registrar's discretion where any other indictable offence is involved. Thus, for example, a person may have been convicted of what may be termed a "white collar crime" and may nonetheless be assessed as a suitable person to own a firearm for an approved purpose. In this sense the amendment makes more specific the criteria used to determine the suitability of a person to hold a dangerous weapons licence, in that where a person would once have been automatically excluded there is now discretion available to the registrar to weigh up the seriousness and implications of past indictable, non-violent offences.
The Bill also restricts the payment by the Territory of compensation for surrendered weapons. When the Weapons Act was first passed the provisions were drafted so as to allow for compensation to those persons who had lawfully held weapons under the previous less restrictive regime. Some years have now elapsed and it is appropriate to tighten that provision so that compensation may be paid only for those weapons which cannot be sold lawfully. This is to remove the possibility that gun owners may take advantage of this provision to dispose of unwanted weapons rather than make efforts to sell them.
The Bill formalises the arrangements when visiting foreign dignitaries are accompanied by armed security personnel. The Commonwealth approves the importation of hand guns by such people only in strictly limited circumstances, and makes arrangements with the police force in each State or Territory in which the dignitary may be travelling. Until now there has been no legislative provision in the Territory for this eventuality. The Bill will allow for the issue of temporary licences by the Chief Police Officer, subject to strict conditions.