ABC RADIO HOBART
THURSDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECT: Launch of the Parliamentary Friends of Gun Control.
HOST: Let’s go to Canberra now, where a new alliance has been launched to deal with protecting the firearms legislation – you’ll remember that was the legislation that was introduced with the agreement of State, Territory and Federal Governments after Port Arthur. This morning there'll be the launch of the Australian Gun Safety Alliance. There are two co-chairs, Andrew Leigh MP who is Labor of course and John Alexander Liberal MP and a number of other organizations joining with it and including Walter Mikac, founding patron of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. Of course, he lost his wife and daughters at Port Arthur and they join us now. Good morning.
WALTER MIKAC: Good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning. Great to be with you.
HOST: Thanks. Andrew, if we can come to you first of all. Why do you feel the need to have the Australian Gun Safety Alliance, such a formal launch?
LEIGH: The issue of gun safety has always been important to me. When I was a junior lawyer, my mentor was a woman by the name of Zoe Hall, who was visiting Tasmania at the time of the massacre and tragically became one of the final victims of Martin Bryant. I stayed interested in the issue of gun policy and as an economics professor I did some research on the impact of the National Firearms Agreement on gun homicide and suicide, estimating that around 200 lives were saved every year as a result of those visionary reforms. Then, as a parliamentarian, I saw the risks of backsliding. I greatly admired the bipartisan spirit which led to the National Firearms Agreement 21 years ago and thought that it was important to reinvest in that. Alongside John Alexander, who is the Australian of great distinction, we launched Parliamentary Friends of Gun Control.
HOST: Are you worried that those that legislation or those laws are facing pressure on state territory governments to water down those laws?
LEIGH: It’s always a risk. We've seen moves afoot in Tasmania and it is important that future generations are reminded of what the world was like before the National Firearms Agreement. It wasn't just Port Arthur. We had an average of one mass shooting every year for the decade preceding the National Firearms Agreement. Nearly 100 victims. But people will be voting now in their second election who were born after the National Firearms Agreement. We have to remind young Australians of why we made those changes, the importance of not going down the American road to a place where you are 10 times as likely to die as a gun death as you are in Australia.
HOST: Walter Makic, if we come to you. I mean, you lost your wife Annette and your children Alannah and Madeline at Port Arthur. You set up a foundation in their name and you've spent more than two decades campaigning for firearm regulation. Are you worried that there's pressure to water down the laws?
MIKAC: Well, I think you know what - this legislation has come under fire from a number of times by different states. I remember Jeff Kennett being in power in Victoria every year afterwards and due to a lot of pressure from the Nationals he wanted to change some of the issues, some of the parts of it. I came up in Canberra spoke at the National Press Club, which is very daunting at the time. But I made a vow to the children that I would do everything in my power to make sure that the things changed and we got the legislation which is the envy of nations around the world and that I would fight tooth and nail to make sure it stayed that way. Because, you know, I mean it's a good thing but there's a complacency on that issue in some regards in the community. You know, our children don't go to school in fear that going can be shot. They don't go to, university students do not have the thought that they're going to go to their university lectures and get shot. So it's been a beautiful paradigm shift for us. I am very proud of Australia as a nation, what we've done in that regard so let's not let that slip now.
HOST: Andrew Leigh, if we could come to you again. I mean, just this year in Tasmania for example we had moves by the re-elected Hodgeman Government to adjust some of the state's firearms laws. They withdrew that, it was a bit controversial when it was revealed that they had considered it going into the election. They said that there could be practical improvements to the firearm laws that could be made, but they said they would weaken them. What do you make of that?
LEIGH: I think Tasmania is the jurisdiction which generates most concern for those who see the importance of gun safety. The fact is Australia has managed to get a good balance. We still have a strong sporting shooters culture in Australia - in fact, on my morning run I'll sometimes pass both the pistol club and the rifle range in Canberra. But at the same time we don't have this use of guns purely for self-defence by regular citizens. We don't have the guns in teenagers’ waist belts, in bedside tables, in car glove boxes that you see in the United States. The risk of more guns is that you have more gun deaths. Many of them will be suicides. The person most likely to kill you with a gun is yourself. The United States has not just a far higher firearm homicide rate than Australia, but a far higher firearm suicide rate than Australia and many of the lives of the deaths averted in Tasmania after the buyback were as a result of reduced firearm suicide.
HOST: Walter Mikic, you say that ordinary Australians, Tasmanians support strong gun laws. What do you want this alliance to achieve?
MIKAC: Well, the main thing is awareness of the issue. You know, we had that legislation come into play in 1996, most of the states complied with the system. But there are still some areas of the policy that haven't been fully implemented. I mean, we don’t have a National Firearms Registry - that was one of the things that came out and it still hasn't been achieved. So there are important things. What we want is for that legislation to be rigidly adhered to and maintained because small areas of tinkering or watering down of that can be a slippery slope to change.
HOST: Good to talk to you. Thanks for your time this morning.
MIKAC: Thank you.
LEIGH: Thank you.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.