National Firearms Register about to get ‘real’

The Federal Government is committing more than $160 million to establish a National Firearms Register, in a bid to consolidate information from the multiple registries currently in operation Australia-wide. In the Federal Budget on May 14, a total of $161.3 million was set aside over four years to fund the Register, which is aimed at giving authorities a single access point to firearms information across the country.

This move is largely a box-ticking exercise by the Federal Government to appear proactive in addressing public safety improvements. A series of tragic events unfolded in rural Queensland towards the end of 2022, which have now been identified as an act of domestic terrorism involving the use of illegal firearms by unlicensed individuals.

In June of last year, the Police Ministers Council agreed unanimously on the way forward, followed in August by discussions at National Cabinet level. Now, with funding in place, the Register will give police real-time information on firearms, parts and licence holders and earlier discussions with the Attorney-General’s Department suggest much of this funding will be used to bring state and territory registries up to standard.

Part of this process will include significant remediation to meet a common national data standard, upgrading existing registries and replacing paper-based systems, upgrading and digitising portals for dealers, importers and manufacturers, processing changes to ensure information is provided in near real-time and connecting each individual system to the Register.

The Register won’t impact licensing and firearm regulations for SSAA members on an individual level, but will create a system which houses all the private information of licence holders in one place. This brings with it significant privacy concerns and in our most recent meetings with the Attorney-General’s Department, SSAA Inc representatives made clear expectations of robust privacy and access controls. We’ve seen incidents of misuse of this information, the most significant being the release of a ‘de-identified’ map of locations of firearms licence holders on the front page of The West Australian newspaper in 2022.

Said SSAA Media and Politics Officer Rachael Oborrow: “Law-abiding firearms owners are some of the most heavily policed people in the country. Now, if personal information on firearms is available on a database, there could be leaks and that would be a public safety risk if used in the wrong way.

“The intentions of this Register are great and we can only hope the system itself becomes an integral part of how our police operate so they’re using it as intended. Firearms registries have been around since 1996 and are all in varying degrees of integration, so hopefully this Register will pull them together and update them at the same time.”

It has always been the position of SSAA Inc that having goals of improving public safety are well-founded, but increasing funding to law enforcement to target illegal firearm use rather than impacting law-abiding firearm owners with more stringent regulations would be a better use of public funds.

SSAA Inc remains in regular contact with the Attorney-General’s Department and has assurances of our representatives being involved in consultation throughout the duration of this process.

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