The Sunday Mail (Queensland)

NATION STILL HAS THE SAFETY OFF

As the 25th anniversar­y of the Port Arthur massacre looms, and 25 years after a national firearms register was agreed, Australia’s gun laws are still problemati­c

- ELLEN WHINNETT

AUSTRALIA still does not have a national firearms register, 25 years after the states and territorie­s signed up to it.

As the anniversar­y of the Port Arthur massacre approaches, a Sunday Mail investigat­ion has revealed the National Firearms Agreement, signed in the days following the massacre, is riddled with loopholes.

A number of changes agreed by the states and territorie­s in response to the 1996 massacre, in which 35 people were killed and 20 injured by a lone gunman at Port Arthur in Tasmania, have never been implemente­d. And some laws have since been watereddow­n as the states and territorie­s caved in to demands from pro-gun lobbyists.

One of the most serious problems is that despite agreeing to establish a national firearms registry to track individual guns across Australia, the states and territorie­s have failed to reach agreement on how to do it.

Other flaws in the agreement include: States do not automatica­lly report to each other when a firearm licence holder moves interstate. While the agreement says those seeking a firearm licence must be aged at least 18, all states allow children as young as 12 to get a junior licence or permit, Queensland allows children as young as 11, and WA has no lower age limit. Several jurisdicti­ons (ACT, NSW) have overturned bans on silencers. Several states including Tasmania and Victoria have abolished the 28-day wait after receiving a permit to acquire a second or subsequent firearm. Some states including Victoria now allow people to appeal the automatic suspension of their licence if they face domestic violence orders.

University of Sydney Associate Professor Philip Alpers, founding director of the firearms legislatio­n tracker GunPolicy.org, said no state or territory had ever fully complied with the National Firearms Agreement.

“There is now some data linkage between state and territory registries, but there’s still no true national register of firearms which can be queried by law enforcemen­t from any jurisdicti­on in real time, as can be done with motor vehicles,’’ he said.

Under the agreement, Australia’s law enforcemen­t jurisdicti­ons agreed to “record sufficient informatio­n to be able to uniquely identify each firearm” and “store registrati­ons on a system which is able to share informatio­n with the national informatio­n-sharing hub”.

However, the Australian Criminal Intelligen­ce Commission is not yet able to do this because each jurisdicti­on records details differentl­y in their firearms registries, and applies the rules differentl­y.

Assistant Minister for Community Safety Jason Wood said he wanted to see a national firearms registry introduced, and that it was “long overdue’’.

He said he had asked the Department of Home Affairs to examine whether the register could sit alongside the Australian Firearms Informatio­n Network, which the Australian Criminal Intelligen­ce Commission ran and which tracked the movements of some, but not all, firearms.

“It’s well and truly long overdue,’’ he said of the national registry. “It will help law enforcemen­t out, it will help people if they want to take a firearm interstate, to me it’s an absolute no-brainer.’’

Mr Wood said that while firearms licensing and registrati­on was a state responsibi­lity, he was “happy that the federal government leads the charge to ensure we are all on the same page’’.

The architect of the 1996 gun laws, former prime minister John Howard, said he still believed the registry should be establishe­d. He said while he was surprised the registry had not been introduced, it should not detract from the achievemen­t of the National Firearms Agreement.

Australian Federal Police Associatio­n president Alex Caruana said the ACIC ran several databases tracking firearms known to have been linked to criminal activity, lost or stolen, used in a crime or found at a crime scene, but he said none were what he would deem a national database.

“All of the states’ systems are different and there is no uniform agreement on definition­s, required informatio­n,

WE ACHIEVED A HISTORIC ... CHANGE AND UNDER NO CIRCUMSTAN­CE SHOULD WE ALLOW IT TO BE FRITTERED AWAY JOHN HOWARD

restrictio­ns et cetera,’’ he said. “They don’t even have the same form to apply for a firearms licence.

“The definition of a dealer in different states and territorie­s is still different, the states can’t agree on basic things like what’s a controlled firearm.”

Mr Caruana said the states should work to homogenise their definition­s and align their legislatio­n to build a solid national firearms register.

There are concerns that potentiall­y violent offenders could possess a gun without police knowing about it, simply by moving interstate.

The states and territorie­s did not automatica­lly advise each other when a gun owner crossed state borders, meaning a registered gun could potentiall­y drop off law enforcemen­t’s radar.

“The systems don’t talk to one another, they’re completely different systems,” Mr Caruana said.

He pointed to the Queensland Police weapon licensing division, which states on its website: “Unfortunat­ely, there is no way to ‘transfer’ licences between states. If you are moving to Queensland and have a current interstate licence, you will need to make applicatio­n for a new licence in Queensland, but may not be required to complete a weapons safety course.’’

Tony Rundle, the premier of Tasmania in 1996, said he was surprised and disappoint­ed to hear the registry was never set up.

“Firearms can cross state borders.

So a national firearms registry would be something that needs further attention,’’ the now-82year-old said.

Roland Browne, a Hobart lawyer who has worked for gun control since the 1980s, said the failure to establish the registry was a “tragedy”.

“We have a national registrati­on system for companies, for businesses ... for migration agents, you name it,” he said.

“But for some reasons our government­s have not been able to effect a national registrati­on system for firearms.

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 ??  ?? Ex-PM John Howard; (far left) Martin Bryant; (below left, insets) scenes from the shooting at Port Arthur and (below) Alex Caruana. Main picture: Toby Zerna
Ex-PM John Howard; (far left) Martin Bryant; (below left, insets) scenes from the shooting at Port Arthur and (below) Alex Caruana. Main picture: Toby Zerna
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