Transcript, Melbourne Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices

Subject/s: Government division and disunity; Adler shotgun; climate change








Subject/s: Government division and disunity; Adler shotgun; climate change

CLARE O'NEIL: Good afternoon, thank you for being here everyone. My name is Clare O’Neil and I am Shadow Minister for Justice and I’m here with Mark Dreyfus, Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General and the discussion today is about the Government division over the National Firearms Agreement.

The Turnbull government is hopelessly divided on gun control. And if they are divided on gun control, they cannot adequately provide protection for Australians against gun violence. Increasingly it is falling to Labor to ensure that the National Firearms Agreement, John Howard's proudest legacy, is properly protected. And that is a responsibility we take extremely seriously.

On Friday, the Prime Minister will meet with state and territory leaders at the COAG meeting and one of the items on the agenda will be the renegotiation of the National Firearms Agreement. This was an agreement that was put in place by John Howard after the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996. And since that agreement was signed, there has been not a single mass shooting in this country. It is a very proud legacy that Labor is very proud to protect.

But Malcolm Turnbull goes into this COAG without a clear position on the classification of the Alder A110, which will be a critical aspect of this discussion. The Adler A110 is not a recreational weapon. It is a dangerous weapon, capable of firing 8 rounds in 8 seconds, and is a weapon that should be classified in a way that restricts its access to people who very genuinely need it.

Now the Prime Minister has called for a tight classification of the Alder but we saw something extraordinary on television last night. And that is that at the very peak of government right down to the very bottom of the government, there is very bitter division on the question of how the Adler A110 should be classified. Barnaby Joyce has made it clear that he has a completely different position than what is the declared Government position. And he made that clear not across the cabinet table, not in a private conversation to the Prime Minister, but on national television in front of what was probably a million viewers. And in that discussion, Barnaby Joyce argued effectively for the watering down of John Howard's gun laws.

This is not the only division and disunity that we have seen on this question. About two weeks ago Senator David Leyonhjelm made a motion in the Senate to try to lift the import ban on the Adler. Despite the position of the Government, which is that the import ban should not been lifted until this gun has been re-classified, National Party members went into the Senate and openly defied the Government's position.

And not only that, but National Party Cabinet members refused to come and vote to support the Government's position. This is an extraordinary display of disunity at the very heart of the Turnbull Government.

Now this humiliating display of disunity is not just restricted to quibbles between the Nationals and the Liberals. We've also seen within the Liberal Party backbenchers come out and say they also support the weakening of John Howard's gun laws. What we've learned earlier this year is that under both Tony Abbott's leadership and Malcolm Turnbull's leadership, this Government has shown a willingness to horse-trade on community safety, to horse-trade on these incredibly important gun laws in order to get through bills in the Senate.

So what we have here is a Prime Minister that goes into COAG with a deeply divided Government, a Government that doesn't have a consistent position on the Adler, one that has shown that it is willing to horse-trade on community safety in order to get votes in the Senate. It's simply not good enough and it is not going to see us protect Australians against gun violence in the way that the National Firearms Agreement has been doing now since 1996.

Now, I'll hand over to Mark Dreyfus to say a few words.

MARK DREYFUS: Thanks very much, Clare. Clare's very directly and accurately described the division and disunity in the Liberal Party and the National Party over these gun laws, but this not the only battle that has erupted in the government. Just in the last 24 hours we've seen Tony Abbott up in arms about the apparent, imminent abolition of the Green Army, a policy of his own. 

We've also seen erupt in the Liberal Party from backbenchers like Senator Cory Bernardi and Craig Kelly, criticism directly of the review that is to take place into the Government's direct action policy on climate change before that review has even taken place, with an attack being made by both Senator Bernardi and Mr Kelly on even the notion of examining pricing of carbon.

We know that the review is absolutely needed because at present we do not have in Australia a set of policies that are remotely capable of reaching the emissions reductions targets that the Government has set. We know that any review must incorporate consideration of whether or not there is to be pricing of carbon or trading of international credits because it has long been established that some kind of price on carbon, which is what's involved even in an intensity scheme or a baseline credit scheme, some kind of price on carbon is what is needed to get to the most efficient, least cost means of achieving emissions reductions.

So we see on display with three separate battles erupting in the Government just how divided this Government is, and how weak the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is for his inability to pull any of these backbenchers into line.

O'NEIL: Thanks, Mark. Do we have any questions?

REPORTER: Shadow Minister O'Neil, this is to you. You mentioned that the Government is deeply divided over the Adler shotgun. We had the Greens in here earlier talking about the fight with climate change policy and possible dumping of Green Army. What does it say overall about the Government and how divided they are?

O'NEIL: I think what we've seen is a Government that has deteriorated day after day since Malcolm Turnbull took the leadership, and the division and disunity that we see going into COAG this Friday is something I don't think we've seen in Australian politics for a long time. And that is a Government that is so obsessed with fighting amongst itself that it cannot reach a consistent position on something as straightforward as protecting Australians against gun violence. And that is a government that is not focusing on governing the country. It's a government that's focusing all of its energy and attention on internal bickering and it's not just good enough.

REPORTER: What's your response in regards to the Adler shotgun with farmers, the Nationals, saying they need to keep away pests with the shotguns. What is your response to wanting to use it for that purpose?

O'NEIL: I don't think that anyone is in any doubt that farmers need access to guns to do their work as farmers. There is probably no-one in this country that wants to make life more difficult for Australian farmers. And we respect the right of people to need weapons, to even need weapons like the Adler. The critical thing is that there is a direct link, and this has been well-founded through all the international evidence, between the number of guns in the community and the number of deaths that occur due to gun violence.

Now I just make the point that since the National Firearms Agreement has been in place, there has been not a single mass shooting in this country. And we've watched while countries around the world grapple with the very significant problems presented by having inadequate gun regimes and thousands of guns on the street.

And I would just say to the Australian community, we support the right of farmers to use weapons but when we have thousands of guns in the community, the incidents of gun violence go up. And it's not because farmers aren't doing the right thing. We know that people genuinely go through the licencing system are following the rules. The truth is that guns get stolen. Accidents occur. Just in the last year, we've seen three and a half thousand guns get stolen. We don't know where those guns are. There are illicit guns that are coming into this country. At what numbers, we don't know exactly. But this is a government that has effectively lost control of this guns agenda. And as I said, it's increasingly falling to Labor protect Australians against gun violence. And that's a responsibility that we take very, very seriously.

O'NEIL: Thanks.

DREYFUS: Thanks very much.