Vital we don't backslide on Australia’s gun laws - Transcript, Doorstop





SUBJECT: Launch of the Parliamentary Friends of Gun Control.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning everyone. Thanks for joining us for this important event on gun safety. We had last night a terrific turnout for the launch of Parliamentary Friends of Gun Control. The launch marked 21 years since the National Firearms Agreement came to a close. John Alexander and I are co-chairs of the group, both of us with our own connections with gun safety. I will get John to say a bit of his connection. Mine comes both as being a researcher who worked on the impact of the National Firearms Agreement, but also as somebody who lost my law mentor, Zoe Hall, in the Port Arthur Massacre. We are joined today by Terry Slevin from the Public Health Association, by Lesley Podesta from the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, and by Walter Mikac, whose story of determination in the face of a tragedy that would have floored almost anyone is an extraordinary Australian story. You will hear from each them today before we go to you for questions. So thank you for joining us today. It is vital that we don't backslide on Australia’s gun laws and recognise that they’ve saved around 200 lives a year. Which means around 4,000 Australians are alive today, who would not have been alive were it not for the visionary National Firearms Agreement and the buyback, licensing and registration that comes with it.

So I’ll hand over now to my co-chair John Alexander.

JOHN ALEXADNER, MEMBER FOR BENNELONG: Thank you, Andrew. This is, as I think we are doing today, is another example of bipartisanship at its best. Kim Beazley, John Howard, Tim Fischer - who was here last night - and John Anderson combined to perfect this legislation. Our job now is to maintain vigilance. My experience, just briefly, was I lived in the US for some 14 years in Atlanta, Georgia where there is an extraordinary gun culture. When I first had friends over for dinner, for roast lamb, one of the men asked me if I had a gun and I said I didn’t. He broadcast to the guests, ‘John doesn’t have a gun, we got to go back and get one’ - just to get me through the night. More recently, after the event in Las Vegas just over a year ago, I spoke in this place about my love for the US and the tragedy of a lack of gun control. If you add up all the deaths in of all the wars that America has been involved in, there have been more deaths where Americans have killed each other with guns. So they have been in effect their own worst enemies. It’s a great lesson for us, we get a lot of our trends and fads from the US, we have got to remain vigilant of this to protect our live [inaudible].

WALTER MIKAC: Yeah look, the importance of the Gun Safety Alliance is really one of awareness for the Australian community. We’ve really reached a new generation now, where kids are going to school now don’t have to be worried, don’t have to think about that they’re going to be shot. University students are not going to be wondering about where the escape routes are out of their lecture theatre. So, it’s really important that as a community that we uphold the National Firearms Agreement and that we don’t allow the states to tinker with that or to water down some elements of that. I’ve seen over that 20 year period, there was a case in court where Victoria was trying to do that I think in 1997 just the year after, and the recent changes proposed in Tasmania, which hopefully will be averted and will comply with the legislation. I feel very proud of the foundation, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, we have has helped over two million people over that time. Children who have suffered from loss or violence.  And I really want to thank all the other organisations that have joined the Gun Alliance, it is all really all about our future and about the children, who are our future.  Thank you very much.

LESLEY PODESTA: We were honoured last to hear Tim Fischer, one of the people who helped create the National Firearms Agreement.  And I think all of us in the room were really struck by his passion and his leadership on this issue.  And I think that’s what the Gun Safety Alliance is really going for, that some things are bigger than short term election politics. I echo the words of our Prime Minister, who says that he wants to see an Australia where people feel secure, people feel safe, and we’re all in it together. And I think that’s how we feel about the gun laws that have kept our country a safer and more prosperous country. We don’t want to see anyone from any jurisdiction thinking that our gun laws are something that we can trade away for some short term political gain. These have to be laws that we across the nation say are important to us. We know that the vast majority of Australians support the gun laws in our country because this is the Australia we want to live in. And so the Gun Safety Alliance is a group that has brought together varied interests across our country to say we want to maintain our vigilance and our protection of these laws because they matter to all of us.

TERRY SLEVIN: It’s mostly been said, but my introduction to this issue is in 1996. I had two young children, aged four and two. The horrible events of Port Arthur occurred and there was a community meeting held, and I just went along. And I walked out of that meeting as the founding Chairman for the Coalition of Gun Control in Western Australia. It was a rather daunting task, but it illustrated to me the importance of this issue across the whole community. Australians have a right to expect to be safe. We need to ensure that we continue to prosecute all the arguments we need in every parliament of Australia to ensure that remains the case. National Firearms Agreement has been successfully protecting Australians for more than 20 years. We want it to protect the next generation, and the generation after that, and the generation after that. So we must resist the pushback against these laws.

LEIGH: Thanks Terry, any questions?

REPORTER: Yeah if I could hear first of all Andrew and then JA, just in terms of politics. You’re saying we need the Alliance because some of the states are no longer being as compliant as they should. How are the states not being compliant? And which states are the worst offenders?

LEIGH: Well as you’ve heard from Walter, we’ve seen moves from Tasmania in particular which have concerned some people. It’s also a reminder that each generation, you need to talk about what the situation was once like and what the National Firearms Agreement did. Port Arthur is our worst ever mass shooting, but in the decade leading up to Port Arthur, Australia averaged one mass shooting every year with nearly 100 victims. In the decade after Port Arthur, there wasn’t a single mass shooting. But most of the effect of the National Firearms Agreement was in averting gun suicide, because tragically the person most likely to kill you with the gun is yourself. And unless we explain those lessons then voters today, such as people voting in their second election who were born after the National Firearms Agreement, are at risk of forgetting the Australian example: managing to balance a sporting shooters culture without that proliferation of guns in a way that drives the gun death rate through the roof.

REPORTER: JA, if I could just ask you quickly. Is the Coalition, can they do anything more to help the states comply or make the states comply?

ALEXANDER: By maintaining the conversation and our vigilance to snuff these things out, as what happened in entertaining the laws in Tasmania, I think is our main task at the moment.

REPORTER: I know, I believe David Leyonhjelm was trying to get something up about the Adler shotgun. I don’t know if that actually was successful – do any one you know if that’s still happening?

PODESTA: He’s no longer pursuing that. At the COAG meeting, they made a decision around the classification of that shotgun. But in fact one of the issues is that whilst all of the states agreed around the classification, not every state has legislated to classify the shotgun in a way that they agreed. So we still have some anomalies across the states.

REPORTER: One for anyone really, do you think that Australia is becoming more of a gun culture now? Like you said, are we forgetting those horrible lessons we have learned after Port Arthur?

MIKAC: I don't think so. We’ve had, as I talked about, a shift in our perception about how we deal with conflict, about not using violence and particularly about not using firearms. So it’s just dealt with differently and that’s obviously led to things like domestic violence becoming much more of an issue that we talk about. I think there’s definitely been some firearm crime, but probably more around organised crime and that’s not something I think that we have that much more control over. Often they’re illegal or have been bought over the internet. We’re talking about people owning, not being able to get automatic and semi-automatic weapons, which was the whole point of the agreement because we’re not in war. People in the street do not need those kinds of weapons. There’s no need for them.

PODESTA: There is no doubt an ongoing effort by firearm manufacturers and sellers to increase demand for their product. That is ongoing and constant. They want to make sales and they constantly urge relaxation of what can be imported, what can be purchased, the number of firearms that can be purchased to affect that result. But I think balancing that, the Australian community us in shock over school shootings and mass shootings in the US and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation gets contacted every day by people who say to us ‘keep us this work’. We never want to be like the United States. So I think there is definitely a dynamic in Australia of people trying to normalise guns and increase the demand, but overwhelming in the community, I don’t think there is any appetite to have a gun culture like they have in the United States.

LEIGH: No other questions? Thanks very much, everyone. We really appreciate you all being here.


Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.