MIL-OSI Australia: Opinion Piece – National Firearms Register will be a victory for public safety, 27 years after Port Arthur massacre

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Source: Australian Executive Government Ministers

In the wake of the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996 all Australians vowed never again.

We resolved as a nation that we would never again tolerate the easy access to firearms, and especially high-powered military style weapons, that made possible the mass slaughter of innocent people.

Under the leadership of John Howard and Kim Beazley, leaders across the nation united, agreeing to the historic National Firearms Agreement, and ushering in some of the strongest gun laws in the world.

But as good as those reforms were, they were never completed.

We outlawed many types of weapons and severely restricted access to those still legal, but the lack of accurate information about precisely which weapons are held in the community across Australia and by who remains a significant gap.

On 12 December 2022, the murders of Queensland Police Constables Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold and the brave neighbour who came to their aid Alan Dare shocked and saddened the nation.

In the wake of this shocking tragedy the Prime Minister and state and territory leaders united in endorsing a critical measure that will help protect our police from a repeat of Wieambilla – a National Firearms Register.

Last week, full agreement on the National Firearms Register was reached.

Since Port Arthur, there has been broad support for the concept of a National Firearms Register, but no agreement was reached on how to make it work. The tragedy of Wieambilla gave new impetus to reach this agreement. For many years governments had tried but failed to gain any traction on this vitally important national initiative.

This missing piece in Australia’s firearms reforms will be a reality.

A National Firearms Register will ensure police across all Australian jurisdictions have timely and accurate information to assess any firearms risk posed, and protect the community from harm.

It will address significant gaps and inconsistencies with the way firearms are managed across states and territories, allowing the near real time information about firearms ownership to be shared across the country.

Establishment of the Register will enable the connection of firearms information with key risk information for police to act upon. This will include police intelligence, criminal records and other relevant government and court information.

I will continue to work with my state and territory counterparts and department to get this done.

Importantly, it will mean every single state and territory will reap the benefits of this Register. As part of the agreement, all jurisdictions have agreed to extensive improvements to firearms systems, data management and changes to business practices and legislation. For states like Tasmania that currently used paper-based registry systems, this will see a replacement of these outdated systems with a digital alternative.

Walter Mikac, whose wife Nanette and daughters Alannah and Madeline were murdered at Port Arthur declared “Although it has taken nearly 27 years, I am very pleased that the final part of the National Firearms Agreement has been agreed to. The bipartisan leadership on shown in 1996 is on display again in 2023.”

Too often in this country news reports focus on the things that divide us, rather than the many areas that unite us.

I congratulate the Prime Minister, Premiers, Chief Ministers, state and territory Police Ministers, law enforcement agencies and gun safety advocates who worked tirelessly to make this landmark reform happen. I also acknowledge the efforts of politicians on all sides who for many years have tirelessly led the charge for a National Firearms Register, including Tasmania’s own Senator Helen Polley.

In doing so we have sent a clear united message: Every Australian government is committed to doing everything we can to keep our police forces and communities safe from gun violence.

The murders of Constable Matthew Arnold, Constable Rachel McCrow and the courageous neighbour Alan Dare, was one of the most shocking, calculated and violent attacks on Australian police officers and the community in living memory.

We must never accept that police attending a property or a neighbour coming to offer help will be met with such violence, such brutality.

And we must do everything possible to ensure that when police have to walk up a driveway, or knock on a door, they know what weapons may be held by those waiting inside.

Today we honour the bravery, and sacrifice of all the men and women who risk their lives every day to protect their communities, and commit to doing all we can to prevent more touchstones being added to the 826 on the National Police Memorial.

This opinion piece was originally published in the Hobart Mercury.