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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 24287

Joint Press Conference, Sydney

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 15/03/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24287

Subject(s): Mandatory sentencing for trafficking of illegal firearms

Location: AFP Headquarters, Sydney

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks for coming along today. As you know, the first responsibility of government is the safety of our community and part of community safety is doing everything we reasonably can to crackdown on illegal firearms. 

Under the former government, there were very significant cuts to Customs and this resulted in a 25 per cent reduction in the screening of sea cargo, a 75 per cent reduction in the screening of air cargo. This Government has put $88 million back into Customs to restore screening levels both of sea cargo and air cargo. Nevertheless, there are still some quarter of a million illegal firearms in this country and it’s very important that we do everything we reasonably can to crackdown on those illegal firearms. 

I want to thank Deputy Commissioner Close and her team for the briefing that the Attorney-General and myself have just received, but it’s important that we give the police and the security agencies the tools that they need to do their job and one of those tools is adequate penalties on people who are trafficking in illegal firearms. Earlier, this Government sought to introduce a mandatory five year sentences for people who were trafficking in illegal firearms. Regrettably, that particular piece of legislation did not pass that Parliament. I’m here to announce today that the Government will this week reintroduce that particular legislation as part of the package of measures that will be going into the Parliament to be dealt with by the Parliament. 

We must keep our community safe and part of keeping our community safe is cracking down hard on criminals trafficking illegal firearms and that’s exactly what you’ll get from this Government.

I’ll now call on the Attorney to support these remarks.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Thank you very much indeed, Prime Minister, and might I elaborate a little further on what we’re proposing to do in the coming week. The Government introduced into the Parliament in February, as the Prime Minister has said, a suite of measures designed to crackdown on and expand the bases of criminal liability for the importation of illegal firearms. That included, among other things, expanding the offence to include the importation of firearm parts so that if a firearm was dismantled and the parts were sent separately, there was doubt whether the law applied to the importation of individual parts – it now does – but part of that measure was to give effect to the Coalition’s policy for the 2013 election to introduce a mandatory minimum sentence for this offence of five years imprisonment. Unfortunately, the Labor Party and The Greens have got together in the Senate to remove the mandatory minimum sentence from the legislation. That was done on the basis that the Labor Party claimed to be against mandatory minimum sentences, although they themselves, of course, introduced mandatory minimum sentences during the period of the Labor Government. 

So, my colleague, Mr Keenan, the Minister for Justice, will be reintroducing that part of the legislation to the House of Representatives on Thursday. It will be dealt with by the Parliament we expect in the coming fortnight. We call upon the Labor Party to allow us to honour the commitment we made at the 2013 election to introduce a mandatory minimum penalty of five years so as to give real teeth to the Government’s crackdown on this very, very serious criminal and public safety issue.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, George. Any questions?

QUESTION:

Do you have confidence that this new legislation will get through the Upper House?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it should –it really should – because the Labor Party, despite claims recently, has supported mandatory minimum sentencing in the past. In government, the Labor Party introduced a mandatory minimum sentence for people smuggling and it’s entirely false for the Labor Party to claim, as it did in February, that Labor had some fundamental problem with mandatory minimum sentences. So, I say to Bill Shorten and the Labor Party: if you’re fair dinkum about protecting our community from gun crime, you should support these mandatory minimum sentences for people who traffic in illegal firearms. You saw earlier today the sorts of firearms which are typically seized by police. These aren’t just handguns, they also include semi-automatic weapons of the type that could fall into the wrong hands and be used in incidents of the utmost seriousness.

So, I say to the Labor Party: please joins us here. The Labor Party, to its credit, has a fair record in this Parliament on national security. I don’t believe you can properly separate out this crackdown on illegal trafficking in firearms from our overall national security effort. That’s why I think it’s very important that the Labor Party support us on this one.

QUESTION:

Have you made any tweaks to the legislation or have you just copied and pasted the legislation that failed previously and now you’re bringing it back forward?

PRIME MINISTER:

We believe that the Labor Party’s opposition to this legislation previously was fundamentally misconceived. Because, I’ve got to say, we’ve had reasonable cooperation from the Labor Party on national security, because of our anxieties about the interest of all sorts of people in acquiring weapons that could be used in mass-casualty events, we think it’s more important than ever that this legislation pass.

QUESTION:

Has the change in the makeup of the Senate with the Independents and the PUP Party, is that going to help your cause here or is that going to still impinge?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously, if we don’t get support from the Labor Party we’ll seek support from the crossbench, but my appeal in the first instance is to Mr Shorten and the Labor Party because I’m not saying that the Labor Party are soft on crime, I’m not saying that the Labor Party are soft on national security, but if you want to be as tough on crime and as relentless in supporting Australia’s national security as I believe the Labor Party wants to be, you should support this legislation.

QUESTION:

Just a question on the Bali Nine – Tanya Plibersek made some remarks this morning in which she suggested that one of the reasons why you are struggling to tee up this phone call with the Indonesian President is that the Government’s turn back policy has burnt a lot of goodwill. What’s your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is just really loose and irresponsible talk from the Labor Party. The relationship with Indonesia is strong. It’s at least as strong under this Government as it was under the former government, which you might remember put the sugar on the table when it came to people smuggling and that was President Yudhoyono’s words. President Yudhoyono said of the former government that it had revived the people smuggling trade by putting the sugar on the table, by closing down the Pacific Solution and effectively giving the customers of the people smugglers a permanent residency in Australia. 

So, I say that the relationship with Indonesia is at least as strong today as it was under the former government. The fact that the people smuggling trade has all but shut because of the policies of this Government is one of the reasons why the relationship is stronger today, because there isn’t that irritant in the relationship that had existed for about five years under the former government.

There were all sorts of really quite irresponsible things that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said today. She also said that the Labor Party didn’t support turn backs. Now, at the heart of an effective anti-people smuggling policy is the option of turning boats around. Now, basically, Labor has said to the Australian people, and indeed to the people smugglers, if there’s a change of government, the people smugglers are back in business because Labor does not support the turnarounds which were at the heart of the success of our policy in stopping the boats.

QUESTION:

Why do you think you have been unsuccessful in teeing up a phone call with President Joko Widodo?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have raised the question of the Bali Nine and the two Australians on death row with the Indonesian President on a number of occasions and we had a phone call about a fortnight ago. It was specifically on this subject and I made the Australian position absolutely crystal clear. He also made the Indonesian position pretty clear as well. He might think that the subject has been well and truly discussed, but my request for a phone call stands and it’s up to the Indonesian President to respond.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, it’s the Prime Minister’s decision to hire and fire public service department secretaries, so why did you fire Dr Grimes?

PRIME MINISTER:

There was a mutual agreement, as I understand it, reached in discussions between the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Dr Grimes that it would be in his interests and in the Government’s interests if he moved on. It was determined, and I think this was made clear in a statement from the Minister for Agriculture on Friday, that the kind of mutual confidence that should exist between a minister and a departmental secretary didn’t exist and, therefore, it was best for everyone if Dr Grimes moved on and that’s what happened.

QUESTION:

And Mr Thawley would have been acting on your instruction, though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m very concerned to ensure that there is a good relationship between all of my ministers and their secretaries and the Minister for Agriculture has a strong relationship with his Department – a very strong relationship with his Department – but there was an issue that arose, as I understand it, between him and his office and the Secretary and the best way to resolve it was in the way that’s happened.

QUESTION:

And wasn’t he just doing his job, though, making sure his Department didn’t mislead the Senate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I’m just not going to go into all of those details because I’m not privy to all of them at this point in time. The Secretary of my Department believed that the best way to handle this was the way it has in fact been handled.

QUESTION:

In terms of your higher education plans, if they fail to pass the Senate will you cut funding to the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am very committed to boosting Australia’s research effort – very committed – and one of the reasons why we are so committed to the Medical Research Future Fund is because we understand how important it is for our future as a nation and how important it is for the wider world that Australia continue to be a research powerhouse, not just in medical research, but in research across the board. So, we are very committed to a strong research sector, but obviously, the best thing that you could do right now to boost our research effort is to pass the higher education legislation, because research is the preserve of universities and if we want to see a greater research effort we’ve got to unshackle our universities to be the best that they can be. I don’t just want one Australian university in the top 50; I’d like to see two, at least, in the top 20. So, this legislation is a very important part of boosting Australia’s overall research effort.

QUESTION:

Will you carry out that threat if it doesn’t get passed?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m anticipating that the legislation will be passed, because it’s good legislation – it’s good for universities, ultimately it’s good for students, it’s good for Australia and just about every single Vice-Chancellor supports it – and I say to the Labor Party: listen to your own people. Listen to John Dawkins, listen to Peter Beattie, listen to Maxine McKew, all of whom say that it is very important for the future of our university and higher education sector that this legislation pass.

So, the Labor Party should listen to its own experts when it comes to higher education and I hope that the crossbench, should it fall to them, will be listening to the Vice-Chancellors who almost to a person think that this legislation is very much in the best interests of our country and our higher education system.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript - 24287