Page 2747 - Week 07 - Thursday, 3 July 2008

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in Australia were actually used for crime. That is very pleasing. In terms of legitimate firearms being used for crime, there has been a huge drop because of sensible gun laws which restrict, appropriately, the misuse of firearms. Sadly, of course, criminals can still get firearms. We see instances of criminals holding up armoured vans which are transferring cash to banks and things like that, as much as anything else in order to steal the firearms. I do not know what the minister hears at police council meetings these days, but when I attended in 2000 or 2001, the importation of parts was a problem. Getting firearms out of the black market was a problem. The fact that there was a real black market and there were still loopholes, a lot of them involving customs law, was a real problem. I hope a lot of those things have been cleared up, because we do see firearms still used largely by criminals.

The scrutiny of bills committee made a number of comments. There is always the vexed question, when you are talking about human rights, of the right to self defence. The committee looked at that matter. In Australia, traditionally, and certainly probably even more so now, that is not utilised as a reason for people having firearms. Provided that our justice systems are strong enough and work well enough, that is probably a sensible way to go, because it does stop the mad proliferation of firearms. Obviously, that is still a concern. Having regard to the Human Rights Act, that needed to be commented on, and it was commented on appropriately by the scrutiny of bills committee.

Certainly, we as an opposition do not want to see law-abiding citizens unlawfully penalised for legitimate pursuits. They need to be able to pursue those legitimate pursuits, certainly in a controlled manner. No-one that I speak to amongst sporting shooters or the industry disputes that for a minute. There need to be adequate laws in force to counter the people who really do misuse firearms—the criminals who will flout any law. These laws mean nothing to criminals, and they will flout them and misuse firearms. Tragically, we still see this in our society.

To that extent, I welcome the increased penalties in terms of misuse of firearms, especially as they are directed to criminals. I would hope they would not be used for normal, law-abiding citizens who might have fallen foul on a technicality, perhaps only in one instance. I hope they are seen to be there for what they should be—that is, for criminals who clearly misuse firearms for nefarious purposes. At times you have to wonder, Mr Speaker, when you see instances of a criminal who points a shotgun at a 20-year-old girl’s head getting off on a suspended sentence for doing an armed robbery. No matter what sort of penalties—

Mr Smyth: He has improved, apparently.

MR STEFANIAK: You would hope so. No matter what sort of maximum penalties are put in legislation, at the end of the day, if a court does not see fit to abide by what is the clear intent of a legislature and they go off on their own weird little tangents, simply putting a higher maximum penalty does not necessarily assist. Other means are probably necessary, and I have done that before in this place. I have a bill before this Assembly in relation to other matters in the criminal law. Maybe the attorney needs to look at that if there are these higher penalties for the misuse of firearms, and especially misuse for a real criminal purpose—not just by some stupid, law-abiding citizen who might have a momentary lapse.

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