HANSARD LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
20TH OF JUNE 2017
Statutes Amendment (Possession of Firearms and Prohibited Weapons) Bill
Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 1 June.)
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS ( 16:51 :27 ): I rise on behalf of the opposition to speak to the Statutes Amendment (Possession of Firearms and Prohibited Weapons) Bill currently before the council. The honourable Minister for Police introduced the bill on 1 June this year. The bill seeks to amend the new Firearms Act 2015 to widen the definition of 'possession'. The decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal in the matter of the R v Ioannidis fell in favour of the respondent and the trial judge's decision was upheld. However, the Chief Justice suggested that the presumption of possession only applies if an item is found during a search at the time when the person is in the vehicle.
Currently, police search procedures dictate that a suspect is made to alight from a vehicle prior to its search. This is done for obvious safety reasons. This may have the unintended consequence of rendering any find of firearms as inconsequential as possession is no longer presumed. This, of course, is nonsensical and must be rectified. It is entirely reasonable to presume that a firearm or ammunition found in a personal handbag inside a vehicle driven by a person constitutes possession of the same firearm or ammunition. In the case of an unfortunate set of circumstances, there is room in the legislation for a situation to occur where a firearm or ammunition may be present in a vehicle without the person knowing prior to the search. If this can be proved then the person is not presumed to possess the firearm.
Opinion on the bill was sought from the Law Society, which is yet to correspond. Once we receive its opinion we may ask questions of the minister during the committee stage. Given that this bill has not laid on the table for the normal week, as is the convention, the opposition is doing what it can to ensure the speedy passage of the bill. This bill makes common sense and the opposition commends it to the council.
The Hon. R.L. BROKENSHIRE ( 16:53 :28 ): Again, the Australian Conservatives come into this council to help out the police minister with a situation that I had hoped would have been sorted out when we went through the new Firearms Act, but there is no blame on anyone's part and, in fact, for the record, this minister was not the minister at the time. We support this important piece of legislation and we understand why the minister and the government want to get it through more quickly than the normal procedure where it would have—as my colleague the Hon. Terry Stephens said—laid on the table for at least another week.
The Firearms Act 1977 and the regulations allow the Registrar of Firearms to issue a firearms prohibition order (FPO). FPOs place restrictions on a person's access and possession of firearms and the government has stated that the most current figures show 264 persons who are subject to an FPO, generally criminal offenders. This bill intends to amend the new Firearms Act before it is proclaimed and that is the reason why we are supporting the minister on this occasion. We want to see it all tidy and, given that there is the intention still, I understand, for the minister to get all of this through by 1 July, time is of the essence.
The bill amends provisions relating to FPOs under the new act in order to close an unwanted and potential loophole. The bill seeks to correct a recent interpretation by the court in the decision of R v Ioannidis relating to the presumption of possession. In that case, police stopped and searched a vehicle. The defendant was a passenger. The defendant exited the vehicle before the police search and police subsequently found ammunition in the defendant's handbag. As the defendant was subject to an FPO, the possession of ammunition was considered a breach, which I believe the community would absolutely agree with.
The court eventually held that the presumption of possession only applies if an item, in this case ammunition, is found when the person is in the vehicle at the time the item is found during a search. Based on the court's interpretation of the law, the presumption does not apply where the person has exited the vehicle while the search is conducted.
It is an interesting interpretation of the law by the courts, I might say, and one that I personally shake my head at. Clearly, the police had to get the person out of the car. Obviously, the police were observing that person all the time, they were observing the car and what was in the car, so I see it as an absolute technical interpretation by the court. It is problematic because it is common practice for police to search the vehicle after the driver and passengers have exited for safety reasons for all concerned, especially for our police.
The main amendment of the bill is to amend the new act before its commencement on 1 July this year, overriding the court's interpretation in relation to the presumption of possession in the case that I have just highlighted to the house. Under the bill, the prosecution need only prove that the person had been on or in the premises, the vehicle, the vessel, etc., immediately before the relevant item was found.
The bill also proposes to amend the Summary Offences Act to apply the same rule in relation to weapons prohibition orders (WPOs). The government stated that only nine persons, as at 18 April 2017, are subject to WPOs. I understand the government contends that it is not necessary to amend the current act in relation to this issue given the short amount of time before the act will be repealed by the new act and the unlikelihood of the court decision arising again during that same short period of time.
I have advised the Combined Firearms Council executive of this bill and the reasons why it has been brought on very quickly and they concur with it in all respects. This is the sort of thing that legitimate firearms owners strongly support. We do not want imposts where unnecessary on legitimate firearms owners, but we do need to keep our community safe. Clearly, this person had committed an offence and goodness knows what that ammunition was intended to be used for, but very bad consequences could have occurred. I commend the minister and the government on this occasion for introducing the bill. The Australian Conservatives support the bill and look forward to seeing its fast passage.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 16:58 :56 ): I rise very briefly to indicate that the Greens will be supporting the Statutes Amendment (Possession of Firearms and Prohibited Weapons) Bill. I want to put on record our thanks to the minister. As has been noted, this bill is being somewhat rushed through the parliament, but for very good reason and with reasons that were explained. The crossbenches in particular, certainly from the Greens' perspective, thank James Agness and the minister for their consultation, for answering our questions and for providing the clarity we need to pass this bill, not only with urgency but with pleasure, as the Greens always support further protections against the abuse of firearms in our society.
The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Police, Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Road Safety) ( 16:59 :47 ): I thank honourable members for the contributions they have made regarding this bill and acknowledge the collaborative work of members within the house. I also acknowledge the fact that it is attempting to be rushed through, but we do thank the support of the opposition and the crossbenches, as has been indicated thus far. I look forward to the timely passage of this bill as soon as is practicable, notwithstanding the fact that it is being done in a way that is rather quicker than what this place is accustomed to.
Bill read a second time.