Major agreement to tackle the illegal firearms market
The Hon. Jason Clare MP, Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice, Minister for Defence Materiel
29 June 2012
The Federal Government today reached agreement with the State and Territory Governments to deliver major reforms to tackle the illegal firearms market in Australia.
Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice Jason Clare and State and Territory Police Ministers reached the agreement at the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management (SCPEM) held in Melbourne today.
“This is a major challenge. The work the Australian Crime Commission has done has revealed that there are a quarter of a million illegal firearms out there”, Mr Clare said.
“The work of the Australian Crime Commission has found that most of these firearms are stolen or were not handed in after the Port Arthur massacre”.
“The reforms agreed to today are designed to tackle the illicit firearms market from every angle – to seize illegal firearms, to break the code of silence, to improve our ability to trace illegal firearms, to strengthen laws and harden the border”.
The major reforms include:
1. Tough new penalties
The Commonwealth will introduce a new offence of aggravated firearm trafficking. This will attract a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. This will make the maximum penalty for trafficking in firearms the same as the maximum penalty for trafficking in drugs. It will apply to firearm trafficking across national and state borders.
The states and territories also agreed to establish a working group to analyse gaps and opportunities to strengthen state and territory legislation and regulations to address firearm possession and use. This working group will report to SCPEM in November 2012.
2. National roll-out the Australian Ballistics Identification Network
The Australian Ballistics Identification Network is used by the Australian Federal Police and the NSW Police force. This technology undertakes ballistics analysis of firearms that are seized from criminals, and can link firearms to previous crimes.
Ministers agreed in principle to rolling out this network nationwide. This will build a database of all weapons used in crimes recovered by Police in every State and Territory. It will be able to be accessed by Police Forces in every Australian jurisdiction.
The roll out of this equipment will be funded through CrimTrac, the Federal Government agency responsible for information sharing between Australia’s police, law enforcement and national security agencies.
3. Work to establish a National Firearms Register
Ministers agreed in principle to the development of a national firearms register.
There are currently over 30 different registries and databases across federal, state and territory agencies which are not linked. According to CrimTrac, 14,000 firearms are lost track of each year.
A national firearms register is critical to sharing information between law enforcement around the country – and allows a firearm to be tracked through the course its life.
Work will now be done to develop model and funding options for consideration by Ministers at the first SCPEM meeting in 2013, with an update to be provided to SCPEM in November this year on this work.
4. Expansion of the ACC’s Firearm Tracing Capability
The Australian Crime Commission is Australia’s principal firearms tracer. It was agreed in principle that the Commission will develop an Enhanced National Firearms Tracing Serial Number Capability. This would be enabled by the referral of data on all stolen firearms from states and territories for tracing and analysis.
5. Firearm Intelligence and Targeting Team
The Commonwealth has established a specialised Firearm Intelligence Targeting Team inside Customs and Border Protection to fuse together all available intelligence from law enforcement agencies and target criminal key groups at the border. This was announced by the Commonwealth on 12 April 2012.
Customs and Border Protection officers will also be embedded in relevant operational organised crime, gang or firearms squads in states and territories, to better integrate Commonwealth border intelligence capabilities with state and territory criminal intelligence capabilities, as agreed with individual jurisdictions.
6. Air freight
The Commonwealth is undertaking measures to identify and target vulnerabilities in the international airstream.
The Australian Crime Commission, Australian Federal Police, Customs and NSW Police have agreed to undertake a joint assessment of vulnerabilities around the international air stream, including the international mail environment.
The Australian Federal Police is exploring options for employing enhanced intelligence, forensics and technical capability to target vulnerabilities, including the establishment of a forensics rapid lab to enhance the capability to conduct forensics examinations within the airstream including the international mail environment.
From October 2012 Australia Post will conduct rolling three yearly police checks on existing licensees and key personnel, in addition to the current pre-engagement criminal history checks.
The Australian Crime Commission is also working with Australia Post to undertake an intelligence and vulnerability assessment of the postal operating environment and the Australia Post Licensee business model to identify whether additional security measures are required.
The Australian Government has legislated to give the Australian Crime Commission the power to share classified information with private organisations, and Australia Post will be prescribed as a body to receive this information.
7. Improvements to police responses to firearms crime
Ministers agreed to develop a coordinated national operational response to crimes involving firearms including targeted enforcement of high risk groups and improving firearms technical skills capabilities.
The Federal Government will also ask the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to work with the Australian Crime Commission to provide federal, state and territory law enforcement agencies with training on the latest developments in firearms and technical advice.
8. National campaign on unlicensed firearms
Ministers agreed to a national campaign to raise community awareness about unlicensed firearms.
9. Annual Illicit Firearms Intelligence Assessments
The Australian Crime Commission will develop Illicit Firearms Intelligence Assessments in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.
This will provide a better picture of the illicit firearm market in Australia and help our law enforcement agencies to better target their operations.
Mr Clare also proposed the following additional reforms to tackle the illegal firearms market:
Additional firearm search powers to target repeat firearm offenders
The Minister proposed that states and territories consider introducing laws giving police the legal authority to search a person who is subject to a Firearm Prohibition Order (FPO), as well as any vehicle or premises they are in, for the presence of a firearm without the need to demonstrate reasonable suspicion.
FPOs are an order preventing a person from possessing a firearm or participating in firearm related activities.
The prohibition orders could be issued on the basis that the person is deemed not to be a fit and proper person (this could be on the basis of previous convictions for firearms offences or serious indictable offences) or they are subject to a non association order in a jurisdiction or the possession of the firearm is likely to result in danger to life or property, and it is in the public interest to issue a prohibition order.
These search powers would substantially increase the police capacity to enforce the orders, with a person subject to such an FPO able to be lawfully stopped and searched. Search powers would also extend to any vehicle, vessel or aircraft in which they are travelling and any premises they are in could be inspected at any time for firearms, firearm parts and ammunition.
Attributed culpability laws
The Minister proposed that states and territories consider introducing legislation by which a personal found in possession of an illegal firearm is liable to be charged as an accessory to any offences that are linked (ballistically or by serial number) to that firearm, reversing the onus of proof.
The principal advantage of this is to create strong incentives for a person found in possession of such a firearm to provide information on where they got it, breaking the ‘code of silence’.
Presumption against bail for firearms offences
The Minister proposed that states and territories consider introducing laws whereby suspects arrested for serious firearm offences are subject to a presumption against bail, following the recently proposed amendments to South Australian legislation.
States and territories agreed to establish a working group to report to the Standing Council on Law and Justice and SCPEM to consider these reforms by November 2012.