I draw the attention of the House to an important issue for my constituents. This House and the community struggle to deal with issues relating to firearms and, in particular, long arms and firearms registration. More than 3,500 members of my community belong to a firearms club of some description, whether they use pistols, rifles or shotguns. As I understand it, there are more than 5,000 licensed firearm owners and 13,000 registered firearms in my electorate. We all remember the Port Arthur massacre that occurred 20 years ago. In response to that event, the Howard Government introduced its most significant and welcomed reforms, which dealt with firearms registration.
I am not suggesting for one moment that that reform should be wound back. However, the registration process for firearms is tedious, it has a number of faults, the paperwork is excessive, the Firearms Registry appears to be understaffed, frequent errors are made, and the police personnel who are charged with responsibility for undertaking inspections of firearm storage do not appear to have accurate lists of the weapons on site. I emphasise that lawful, licensed, registered firearms owners are not committing crimes using their firearms.
Every time we introduce legislation into this place around tightening firearms registration, licence conditions, registration of different weapons and things such as that, it only ever applies to the most law-abiding and respectful of our community. To carry a firearms licence and be registered in this State a person has to be absolutely crime free. Charges as simple as driving under the influence of alcohol or being subject to an apprehended violence charge are not seen as serious in the courts’ determination—although they are significant and important—but if a person’s record has any of those blemishes then they are immediately suspended from having their licence and immediately withdrawn from the system. The people who are licence carriers are in the top 10 or 20 per cent of our community in their ability to follow the laws of the land.
Recently one of my local dealers came to see me, ironically just 24 hours before we had yet another break-in in Cessnock in which firearms were the target of the break-in. This is a frightening and frequent occurrence in my area. Somehow these criminals seem to know where the firearms are. They seem to know which houses to break into and they do not go in to steal jewellery or money; they go in specifically to steal the firearms that they seem to have some knowledge of. Approximately five years ago I spoke in this Chamber on the ammunition bill, which would see people required to register with their name and address the ammunition that they were going to purchase. The purpose of that was that if a crime was committed with a certain type of ammunition the police could pursue persons who had purchased that particular ammunition. I am informed that there has not been a single occasion since that time on which police have sought to see the books of the ammunition dealers to see who might have purchased particular ammunition.
Think about that: There are 3,500 ammunition dealers in New South Wales. If someone is shot with a .22 slug, how many dealers can the police go to to pursue those details? Those details are kept on-site and cannot be removed from a shop. They carry the names and addresses of the people who have purchased particular material. I welcome a registry and the tightening of gun laws. I welcomed the amnesty that we had in 1996. Perhaps it is time to have another amnesty because a number of people are inheriting rifles that they did not know about from an uncle, a pop or someone like that. If a person turns up with a longarm firearm there is a bit of an inquisition into where that firearm came from and its history. We need some bipartisan, across-the-Chamber improvements in this regard and we need to have a sensible conversation because it is affecting people in my community.