STATUTES AMENDMENT (FIREARMS OFFENCES) BILL

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 1 July 2015.)

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:29): I rise to speak on the Statutes Amendment (Firearms Offences) Bill 2015. Unsurprisingly, the public were outraged to hear of the 2012 New Year's Eve murder of Lewis McPherson, and many questions were asked: how could a 17- year-old Liam Humbles get hold of a gun and then go out in a drunken and drugged state and murder this young man Lewis McPherson? Apart from being what was on the face of it a senseless and devastating act, of course it had very real consequences and was a great tragedy for the family of Lewis.

Unsurprisingly as well, his father has maintained a public call for legislative reform, in particular, from his perspective, mandatory imprisonment for anyone who supplies a gun to another party which ends up being used to murder someone. His plight and plea, on behalf of his son and to try to protect others against this type of senseless violence and act, in this case fatal for his son, is well understood. The government's response to this has been to express, appropriately, concern and to say that there should be a clear review of the reform of the legislation.

As is well known, Liam Humbles, a young man himself, is now in prison serving a life sentence. The factor which was certainly exposed as being offensive to the public was that Charles Cullen was given an eight-year sentence, four years for supplying an illegal weapon and, I think, close to that for drug offences, totalling eight years. To provide a .22 calibre handgun to a young person who then used it to murder someone was seen as just utterly irresponsible and obscene, and I think as a result of that the public were even more outraged.

I do not criticise the government for reacting to the extent of saying that they will leave no stone unturned to review our legislative and sentencing regimes to ensure that, as best we can, we use this instrument, blunt as it may be for some, that we use our criminal and sentencing regime to ensure that it is an effective deterrent against not only future murders but, in particular, the provision of a firearm that could be used in a murder. However, what concerns me—and I think the shadow minister for police has certainly given a very significant and detailed presentation—is the question of whether the government has gone too far in this legislation.

By going too far, let me say this: to reclassify offences, particularly under sections 10C(10) and 14 of the Firearms Act, as serious firearm offences, by adding them to the definition of serious firearm offences under the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act, attracts a much more severe penalty. It means that sections relating to the supply of a firearm to a person to whom a firearms prohibition order applies or trafficking in firearms will attract this higher level of offence with a higher level of sentence. I think that is reasonable. I think that on any account that would be acceptable.

What is concerning is the further action of the government in attempting to introduce a reclassification of the offences, and in addition to that also creating a derivative liability for certain offences. It has been described as novel. It is certainly unprecedented. On the face of it, it contravenes the requirement that a person who is convicted of an offence must have some causal link, some link of causation between them and the act that is undertaken; and, for all of the reasons that have been outlined by the shadow minister for police there are legal implications with progressing legislation which could ultimately come under challenge.

I ask this question: what is the point in saying to Mark McPherson, 'We will act as a parliament to ensure that the memory of your son is not lost and that we act as best we can for the future protection of others,’ if in fact we end up in the courts with legislation which we are being asked to consider, which is challenged and which is found to be invalid? That gives no comfort, in my view, to those who are grieving as a result of this event, and it certainly would not give comfort to other families who may feel that someone they loved was also a victim in these circumstances.

In short, we have an obligation here in the parliament to make sure that, if we are going to introduce some unprecedented approach to the criminal convictions and/or sentencing of someone who we find to undertake conduct that is offensive, we need to make sure as best we can that it is going to stack up. I have contributed to debates in these circumstances before. I particularly remember the criminal organisation legislation that ended up in the High Court. We had the state government with egg on its face—it is embarrassing to the parliament—and we had bikie gang members rejoicing in the streets, and the poor old taxpayer of South Australia was left with a huge bill. How does that help deal with the victims of those who we were trying to prosecute and put behind bars when that type of embarrassing outcome occurs?

I am cautious in jumping off with the government into an area which, on the face of it, is going to go straight to the appeal courts and be undermined. I am much more reticent to walk arm in arm with the government and say, 'Well, look, let's give it a crack. Let's see if it works and we can follow that through. We will just see how it goes.'

I simply cannot trust the government to have acted responsibly on its own after its own investigation, and I think the shadow minister's proposal to support the bill is certainly one direction to go. However, in years to come and I am standing here in parliament after I have read a Full Court judgement or a High Court determination which has thrown it out, then I will be having a lot to say about it. That would be unusual, I know. So, the government is on clear notice that I am very cautious about how we approach this. I thank the shadow minister for all of the work that he has done in thoroughly examining this. The words of Mr Rocco Perrotta may come rebounding back to us.

I want to say something about Mr Perrotta, and that is that he is an experienced criminal counsel in his own right and, of course, he is President of the Law Society of South Australia. Whilst from time to time the government appears to be quite dismissive of the views of the Law Society and do not care to take much notice of them, in this instance in particular the president himself has a significant level of experience and, frankly, the Attorney should have been looking at this much more carefully.

The other matter I want to raise is that the government, in bringing this amendment to the criminal law, have been highly selective in their reaction to what has occurred. I think it is time the government understood that there is a serious problem in respect of illegal firearms. Whilst, on the one hand, I know the Minister for Police has tabled a bill today to look at updating the regulatory regime for possession and ownership, and dealing in firearms through the legitimate process, much of which is meritorious—of course, I cannot say anything more about that because it is a bill we have to discuss. That is good, but there is an unquestionable problem that we have in South Australia, and that is we have illegal firearms in the community. We have illegal firearms coming in and out of South Australia. We have the trading or at least exchange of illegal firearms; they are washing around there in the community in the wrong hands and nobody seems to be doing anything about it.

It is too late to come in here and say, 'Haven't we done a good job by throwing the key away to somebody who has allowed a gun to be used in another offence?' It is too late. Somebody has already been shot. Somebody is likely to have already died. What the government has to get into its head is that it has to put some effort into getting those illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of people who should not have them before they are used to kill some child, or anyone. That is what they have to do and, until they face up to the fact that that is a much bigger problem out there, we are not going to save people's lives.

The other thing I want to say is that, on the issue of parading around with guns, I have said before that I am not happy with people wearing guns in a public place and, in particular, in this parliament. We have somebody, as a security officer who comes into the precinct of this room every day that we sit, who is wearing a firearm. We have security around the building, and I understand that there has obviously been some call for that for security reasons. I will not name them, but three other government buildings which house senior members of government and some of their departments have this special security, and I understand that.

What I do not accept is that in this chamber we have to have people wearing guns. We have seen a situation, I think most recently in Canada, where a person was wearing a gun within the precinct of the parliament and, ultimately, someone wrestled with that person, got hold of the gun, and some other security that was in the precinct dealt with it.

What is not acceptable, in my view, is that we have to be sitting here in this parliament at risk of someone else wrestling a security officer to the ground, getting that weapon and using it. What I am advised is that the reason it is necessary for the person sitting here in the chamber to wear a gun is that there is not sufficient facility here at Parliament House, and/or it takes too much time, to go and put the gun in security before they come into the chamber.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: They are going to be shooting me, not you, because I'm in the middle— especially not a moving target.

Ms CHAPMAN: That would be a tragedy, Madam Speaker, if you were a victim but I would have to say, for anyone else sitting on the other side, I would be very saddened. It really does not matter who it is: it is not acceptable.

What happens in every prison in Australia and every facility where people wear weapons is that they go and put their gun into a secure locker. In fact, I do not think they can even get their car keys to go home in some prisons in South Australia before their gun is securely back in the locker. That is good and very important, but why is it here in this parliament that we have to have someone sitting here wearing a gun and therefore vulnerable to having it removed from them and therefore placing us in a vulnerable position—not just us as MPs but, of course, everyone working here in this room. I add that to the list of things that the Attorney-General can fix up in between.