ABC STATEWIDE DRIVE
WEDNESDAY, 19 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECT: Launch of the Parliamentary Friends of Gun Control.
FIONA WYLLIE: Labor MP Dr Andrew Leigh is a member of the group and believes we shouldn't let our gun laws be eroded and joins us now on Statewide Drive. Good afternoon.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks. Great to be with you.
WYLLIE: Your commitment to gun control stems from a very personal connection to the Port Arthur tragedy. Can you tell us what happened?
LEIGH: In 1996-97 I was working as a summer clerk at Minter Ellison, a Sydney law firm and each of us were assigned a mentor. Mine was a woman by the name of Zoe Hall, a young lawyer who was wonderfully energetic and incredibly thoughtful at looking after me. She went on a holiday down to Tasmania and tragically ended up being one of the victims of the Port Arthur massacre.
WYLLIE: That must have touched you very deeply and everyone who knew her. Did you start campaigning at that time?
LEIGH: I've always been concerned about getting gun safety right. Australia is a country which has managed to maintain a strong sports shooting culture but in the decade before Port Arthur we'd had an average of one gun massacre a year. Nearly 100 victims to mass shootings in that decade leading up to Port Arthur. What's striking is that in the decade after we had no mass shootings. I got interested when I became an economics professor in looking at whether we could actually measure the impact of the gun buyback on gun homicides and suicides. And the research I did with Canadian economist Christine Neill found that in fact the number of lives saved every year was about 200. Some of them were averted homicides but most were averted suicides – because tragically the person most likely to kill you with a gun is yourself.
WYLLIE: Today you're launching the Parliamentary Friends of Gun Control Group. Why has this group been formed?
LEIGH: It's important to remind Australians of the success of the National Firearms Agreement. I'm a Labor MP but I've got to pay tribute to John Howard and Tim Fischer for taking on that very difficult issue in a way in which conservatives in the United States have been unable to do. The National Firearms Agreement with its buyback and licensing and registration schemes, was landmark public policy. But 21 years on, there are now people voting in their second election who were born after Port Arthur and don't necessarily have a memory of how we changed things and an understanding as to the importance of Australia's gun laws in allowing sports shooting but also making sure that we don't have guns proliferating in car gloveboxes and bedside tables.
WYLLIE: Do you think the laws are being eroded or we are changing as a society?
LEIGH: I think there's always a risk of it. We saw that debate around the Adler shotgun coming up recently and invariably the potential of 3D printed weapons will also produce challenges. It is vital that we're clear in Australia about what our buyback can teach the world. The United States could benefit greatly if it were a country which still has rifle ranges and pistol clubs as Australia does, but where teenagers out on a Saturday night don't have a handgun tucked into the back of their jeans. Thousands of young people in the United States who are depressed are able to take their lives too easily – because they have ready access to a firearm.
WYLLIE: As you said the measures put in place after Port Arthur were at the time controversial but you know people like Tim Fischer, the Nationals leader at the time, did not support the people who are putting pressure on them. Do you think we'd see such bipartisan strength for the issue today?
LEIGH: I certainly hope so and one of the marks of that is the formation of this group. In an era of hyperpartisanship and populism, it is important to remind Australians that there are issues on which parliamentarians can work constructively together. On which you can have a Labor MP like me praising a conservative Prime Minister like John Howard. John Alexander my co-chair and I both come to this issue from different directions but we are united in our desire to ensure that we don't water down Australia's gun laws.
WYLLIE: How many other members are there in the Parliamentary Friends of Gun Control group?
LEIGH: That is a great question we'll find out tonight when we have the launch. I hope we'll get all 226 members of the House and the Senate. Oh wait there's 225 because Malcolm Turnbull quit.
WYLLIE: And didn't you get kicked out of parliament Question Time today because you said about the Treasurer?
LEIGH: You've been doing your research! Yes, I couldn't resist interjecting when the Treasurer was claiming credit for a measure which he had previously voted against. But I promise I will be on my best bipartisan behaviour for this evening's important event.
WYLLIE: Who will be speaking at the launch?
LEIGH: We have Tim Fischer - people often forget that it was the Nationals that took much of the political heat in the wake of the buyback particularly facing off against groups such as One Nation. We'll have Walter Mikac who tragically lost his wife Nanette and his two daughters, Alannah and Madeline. Then John Alexander and I will say a few words.
WYLLIE: And why is John Alexander so interested in this particular topic?
LEIGH: John lived in the United States for a number of years for his tennis playing career and he was struck at one stage of being at a dinner party where people were telling him he needed to buy a gun in order to be safe and he just realized that he had come from such a different culture and recognised the value of the Australian way of managing guns. In Australia where we have farmers with guns, we have sporting shooters with guns, but we don't think that the way of keeping yourself safe is to go and buy a gun and have one car and one in your house. That's not the Australian way and it's a reason why you're 10 times as likely to die of a gun injury in the United States than in Australia.
WYLLIE: Our police are of course armed, do you think that is the right way? Some places in the world they're not.
LEIGH: Yes I do. And I think that's that balance has served Australia well. Making sure that there's appropriate licensing and regulation of firearms in police and in a military context. This isn't a call for a great tightening of Australia's firearms rules. The Parliamentary Friends of Gun Control really is a group that's aimed to prevent backsliding around our gun laws and recognising the benefits of what we did. Before the National Firearms Agreement, 15 per cent of Australian households had at least one gun. Afterwards it was 8 per cent. Many people used the opportunity of the buyback to get a .22 out of the back of the closet, hand it in to the police and get fair value for it. And a depressed teenager or an angry spouse was just much less likely to find and use that weapon afterwards.
WYLLIE: It's interesting that you are the Parliamentary Friends of Gun Control Group because in America we get told that the NRA has an incredible lobbying power within the American political system. Is there pressure from any gun lobby groups to donate to political parties?
LEIGH: There's certainly pressure that's been placed and indeed political parties founded in order to change Australia's gun laws. But I think our lobby groups have been more reasonable than the United States. You know, it's striking for me to see the NRA particularly after the late 1970s, what they call the ‘Cincinnati Revolt’ in which a group of much more radical people took over the National Rifle Association and it began to campaign even against bans on ‘cop killer’ bullets. That sort of radicalism doesn't exist to the same extent in Australia.
WYLLIE: Andrew Leigh thank you for your time today.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.