I rise on behalf of the Liberal opposition to speak to the Firearms Bill. At the outset, I acknowledge the hard work of the member for Morialta in another place as our shadow minister for police in putting together all the opposition's amendments and the Liberal Party's position in regard to this bill. Mr Gardner, the member for Morialta, has done an outstanding job with what is, I believe, a very difficult bill. In putting the interests of all and keeping them together, John Gardner has done an outstanding job and I put that on the record at the outset. He has shown that he is a very capable fellow.
I note that many of our constituents, particularly in regional pastoral areas of the state, have serious concerns about the new restrictions on firearms, given that they rely on them so heavily for their livelihood. Concerns of farmers and law-abiding gun owners have been worked into the opposition's amendments, and it seems that the government has been willing to accept many of them. However, there remain a number, which I will move in the committee stage of the debate.
The introduction of this bill has six goals, as per the minister's introductory comments and the police briefing. They are: to improve public safety and prevent crime, reduce red tape, overcome deficiencies, facilitate a nationally consistent approach to firearm control, increase functionality of the act, and modernise the act. I find it a touch ironic that we are meant to be streamlining firearms regulation, yet this bill is longer than the act it replaces.
From the outset, I should state on the record that the opposition agrees in principle with the government's intentions in regard to the bill. Those six goals are commendable; our concerns lie in how we achieve them. As I mentioned, there is a real concern that many of the new provisions are heavy handed and will adversely affect law-abiding firearms owners. The Liberal Party, we hope, has done enough via our amendments to appease those concerns whilst also helping to achieve the government's goals.
This is a complex piece of legislation and perhaps it would be worth not rushing it through this place before the end of the sitting year. I acknowledge that some of my crossbench colleagues, particularly the Hon. Mr Brokenshire, who I believe not only has amendments but also a number of questions for the government during the committee stage of the debate. I am interested to hear these comments also.
As I mentioned, the opposition has a number of amendments which are filed in my name and which, I believe, have already been circulated. These amendments are similar to those moved in the other place by the member for Morialta which the government, at the time, refused to agree to, for whatever reason. However, there were a number that we agreed to and I congratulate the member for Morialta on his work already to date in improving this bill.
It is important that the bill improves public safety. Any safety measures which are in place in the current act we will not seek to scale back. However, in terms of new measures to be in place as a result of this bill, it is the opposition's view that they should be clearly laid out in this bill rather than in future regulations. The rules should be clearly defined and hard to change for the peace of mind of the legitimate firearms owner.
These rules should not be in the hands of one person, nor should they be easy to change on a whim. I note that the bill keeps the general defence which exists under the current act. This is a win for legitimate firearms owners, especially when many of these rules are new. However, I will be moving to remove the exemptions to the general defence which the government has introduced in this bill.
The current act has gone from 20 pages, in 1977, to 85 pages today. It is not a seamless document and many of the amendments are tacked on. The opposition welcomes that a new streamlined act is being written; however, we are a bit suspicious of the many powers and rules left to ministerial regulations. The government will be conducting a working group, to be chaired by the Hon. Rob Kerin, which will include a number of groups, but it goes to show how lengthy this process is—but this process and this bill we must get right for the sake of the 65,473 South Australian responsible firearm licensees.
In terms of a specific explanation of each clause, the minister has entered that into Hansard and many of the practical changes to the enforcement and licence system will be dealt with via regulation but I will briefly attempt to go over some of the clauses here. Public safety notices will now be available to senior police officers to issue the owner-occupier of a regulated business, such as a dealership or range, requiring them to take action where there is a public safety concern. This will remain in force for 72 hours.
In relation to firearms prohibition orders, the registrar may issue a prohibition order against members of criminal organisations or against people who are subject to a control order under the Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Act. This is clearly to stamp out gun violence amongst bikie gangs. Sadly, when people are determined to break the law, or operate outside it, not much can be done except to remove them from society.
Self-audits are a new part of the regulatory system which force gun owners to audit firearms in their possession, to assume everything is accounted for before licences are removed. This is to prevent the ever-increasing number of stolen firearms entering the black market. I am informed that the number is between 230 and 250 firearms per year that are stolen. In many cases, under the current system firearms licence holders may renew their licences without checking if all firearms are currently in the licensee's possession.
New disqualifications have been introduced for those wishing to be employees of dealers. These provisions fit into the oft-used legal threshold of a fit and proper person, which is one of the tenets of both the current act and this bill. However, the registrar is given investigative powers under this bill to determine whether someone is a fit and proper person to hold a licence.
The opposition opposed clause 54 in the other place but was obviously defeated. I indicate that I will be moving an amendment to delete clause 54, but my understanding is that the government also has an amendment to clause 54 which seeks to reinstate the common law right to silence (and against self-incrimination) which may go a way towards ameliorating our concerns. However, there remains a fear that farms may not be considered residential for the purposes of being exempt from the need for a police warrant for property searches, which is extraordinary. This will be explored in the committee stage of the bill.
In relation to the red tape reduction goal, the act and this bill as it stands currently ban sound moderators or silencers. I believe there are practical examples where sound moderators should be used, such as the culling of feral pests close to built-up areas. I am also interested as to why moderators on .22 calibre rifles cannot be used for the culling of rabbits, especially in a rural situation. They are such an environmental pest and anybody who has had any experience with shooting rabbits would understand that a silencer is a very effective tool.
This is what we should be working at with this bill: adapting provisions to allow for the legitimate use of firearms and firearm-related equipment whilst also stamping out the misuse of firearms. I inform the council that I have a couple of amendments to this end, namely to allow for the use of sound moderators, which I will detail at the committee stage.
There are sweeping changes to the permit system, with more generic licensing being introduced and the requirement to link a licence to a serial number being removed. This is very straightforward and allows market fluidity for the legitimate acquisition of firearms whilst also reducing red tape.
Other classes of licence have been added to ease the acquisition of firearms for theatrical, artistic and ornamental reasons. However, so-called deactivated firearms will require a licence under the new system, as they currently do not. It is my understanding that many are very easily reactivated, and this exact thing occurred with 4,000 deactivated firearms in Queensland that were distributed throughout the criminal underworld, compromising public safety.
I acknowledge that the government has adopted the opposition's amendment that there be no charge for the registration of a deactivated firearm. There will be a category for regulated imitation firearms but this detail remains to be seen. Perhaps this also could be explored at the committee stage.
The bill introduces a code of practice in regard to transportation, which may affect farmers, and I hope the government can strike a compromise between community safety and practicality. New provisions in the bill will enable maintenance and interstate transmission of data between jurisdictions. This will assist in determining and identifying those who should be disqualified from holding a licence.
I note that there is currently an amnesty in place for those who have unauthorised access to a firearm to hand it in to a police station. I would certainly encourage those affected to take up the offer. I believe this is a very good outcome.
The modernisation of the act can be seen through a number of reforms, including the additional licence categories of professional shooter, commercial range and shooting gallery. Communication by fax and email are now allowable under the new bill. Expiation notices will now be issued for minor offences; that is, those that would not result in disqualification. I believe that this is a very good outcome.
Finally, police offered examples of red tape reduction or exemptions for farmers, which seemed common sense to me. They were the allowing of licensed farm employees to have access to a farm safe for joint storage and also relaxed regulations in regard to transportation, especially between paddocks.
There are a number of amendments that I have not mentioned, but I will detail all of them at the appropriate point during the committee stage. There were a few issues that were basically practical concerns of farmers, those who have a legitimate commercial need for firearms. Many of these were brought to my attention by constituents of the many farmers within our parliamentary party room. I can say that almost all of them have been addressed by the member for Morialta's amendments, which were agreed to in the other place. The remaining issues should be addressed by my amendments in this place, and I encourage all honourable members to have a close look at them.
There is just one question that I am hoping the minister will be able to address before we commence the committee stage and that is, again, my concern that we always look to regulate and be very tough on licensed firearm owners. What I would like to know is how many licensed firearm owners have actually committed offences, perhaps in the last five years, all of them with regard to firearms misuse, and how many of them have presented to actually be a danger to the community?
My understanding is that it is almost never the legitimate firearms owner who causes a problem in our community. It is almost invariably criminal people and criminal gangs who operate outside the law. I am not sure that any amount of regulation and change is going to have any effect on the way those particular people operate, but again we will ensure that we have tight controls on those people who consistently do the right thing. With these words, I commend the bill to the council. I look forward to the committee stage and I look forward to a very sensible outcome for registered firearms owners.