Strike action that would see Queensland police stations flooded with firearms is being contemplated by the Firearms Dealers Association of Queensland in the wake of what it claims is a deliberate misleading of Parliament.
The group, which has an intrinsic role in the process of buying a gun in Queensland, was not named as a member of the state’s new Weapons Consultation Forum that met for the first time at the end of June.
Its omission has incensed president Rob Nioa, who said Police Minister Bill Byrne is the first minister, as far as his organisation knew, that had refused to talk to the firearms industry in 50 years.
“Our membership base is very angry about this,” he said.
In April Police Minister Bill Byrne told Parliament the new forum would include industry stakeholders and be determined by “an expression of interest process … similar to the parole board process”.
Mr Nioa said neither of these things occurred prior to the June 30 meeting and it was clear the Police Minister had deliberately misled Parliament, for which he should face serious sanctions.
“This was no slip of the tongue. Bill Byrne spoke clearly in Parliament and backed this up with a media release proclaiming his consultation would be superior to the successful advisory panel that had effectively served governments on both sides of politics,” Mr Nioa said.
“Just two months later the minister’s first meeting is held in the shadow of the federal election, in a cynical attempt to avoid focusing on the fact no expressions of interest were called for, and no industry representatives have been invited.
“That suggests he has either misled parliament or doesn’t even know what his office is doing.”
In response, Minister Byrne said letters were sent to a number of organisations seeking expressions of interest.
The focus of the forum was on customers as end-users, he said.
“That’s why we included stakeholders, such as sporting and recreational shooters, and the Shooters Union, whose website includes weapons dealers as one of the groups they represent.”
Others on the forum include the Homicide Victims Support Group, Griffith University’s School of Criminology, the Queensland Police Service and the Queensland Police Union, the Queensland Law Society, the Queensland Rifle Association, Sporting Shooters Association Australia (Queensland) and AgForce, the peak body for the agricultural sector.
The suggestion that weapons dealers were represented on the forum by sporting shooters was rubbished by Mr Nioa.
“The response from the minister’s office demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge of the portfolio,” he said. “Sporting shooters and licenced firearm dealers have completely different licences with completely different legal obligations.
“We are not after much – we just want to be part of the process.
“Legislation is a continually evolving animal and it needs a permanent consultation mechanism to cope with the changes that keep happening, such as with customs.”
Firearm purchases in Queensland are transacted through firearms dealers, and Mr Nioa said he would be asking his members to consider strike action at their next meeting in order to impress upon the minister the importance of the role they played.
“Instead of us doing the paperwork, the police will have to.
“The repercussion for the minister, with an elevated threat level for terrorism, is to encourage thousands of people to walk into police shopfronts with their guns.
“If the minister doesn’t want to engage with us, what else can we do?
“It is ridiculous that the state’s firearm dealers, are not being consulted about ways to make more effective firearm laws, when they process every transaction in the state and have made commonsense recommendations to improve the laws.
“Our members are being taken for granted; legislation governing their business is being debated by people without a detailed understanding of the issues they face. No industry would consider that acceptable.
“Firearm dealers process private sales between licensed firearm owners, which means frontline police don’t need to have licensed owners bringing firearms with them to a police station to sell to another, nor do police have to be tied up processing paperwork and red tape.
“Our members are subsidising government services, the police don’t want the extra burden, yet the minister doesn’t even have the courtesy to invite us to the table, despite his promises.”
Mr Byrne said the meeting was about setting the foundations of the forum and commencing initial discussions around weapons licensing.
“A range of views were expressed by a range of stakeholders,” he said.
“As a government, we need to ensure that any policies reflect the diverse needs and interests of key stakeholders.
“That’s why we established the new Weapons Consultation Forum and the meeting demonstrated the importance of engaging with all relevant stakeholders.
“We know it’s important to ensure that voices of moderation, and the broader views of community members, are filtered into any proposal to shift weapons regulation in Queensland.
“Our first meeting demonstrated the difference between the Palaszczuk government’s Weapons Consultation Forum and the former government’s Ministerial Weapons Advisory Panel.
“The meeting was represented by a balanced representation of members, including victims of crime organisations, AgForce, CrimeStoppers, police and sporting and recreational shooters.”
According to AgForce president Grant Maudsley, the meeting didn’t deliver much.
“It was important to meet high-ranking Weapons Licencing officers face to face, and we talked about doing a better job of tidying up applications and the information on the website regarding handgun applications, but we’ve got a lot of work to do yet.”
He said it would be important for regional politicians to put their views forward and help advance issues.
Minister Byrne said the Weapons Advisory Forum would meet again before the end of the year.
No policy changes
In the face of critical comment from the Member for Mount Isa, Rob Katter, in parliament last month, Mr Byrne has emphasised that there have been no changes to firearms policy since the Palaszczuk government came to power.
“Any claims to the contrary are misleading and without foundation,” he said.
Prior to the establishment of the weapons consultation forum, Mr Katter said firearm owners were growing tired of tactical delays in making it happen.
“While we wait for a committee to be formed, the minister makes major unilateral decisions on firearm legislation, including recommendations to the National Firearms Agreement," Mr Katter said.
He was backed up by Mr Nioa, who is his brother-in-law, who said the minister had only created a forum after he had finished a 12-month review of Queensland’s weapons regulations and already submitted the state’s response to a review of the National Firearms Agreement.
Mr Byrne responded that as Mr Katter would be aware, the national agreement review was being led by the Commonwealth.
“There is a consultation committee that supports that review which is also led by the Commonwealth,” he said.
“Separately and perhaps coincidentally at a state level, the state’s weapons regulations are also under review for planned completion by September 2016.
“This reflects the statutory requirement to review regulations at least once a decade, to ensure that they are contemporary and fit for purpose. These regulations are yet to be presented to government, where they will be tabled and opened for further scrutiny.
“Until the statutory review is finalised and/or any outcomes of national review are known we will continue to operate under the current National Firearms Agreement and state regulations”
The state government is represented on the national review by the Queensland Police Service.
AgForce’s weapons spokesman, Graham Park said that whether or not changes had been made, “previous inflammatory and inaccurate comments” relating to firearms legislation had caused great confusion and angst in the rural community.
“The minister’s stated position has certainly seemed to coincide with a significant shift in internal police policy and procedure relating to primary producers.
“The stubborn refusal to consult or meet with any stakeholders by the minister and his predecessor during the state review caused a real breakdown in cooperation and trust.”
Mr Byrne said that while no changes had been made to state government firearms policy, he believed regulations required constant review to ensure they stay up to date as the security situation in Australia changes.
In contrast, Mr Nioa said his organisation had already made efforts to modernise the recording of firearms transactions, and efforts to enable firearm dealers to electronically access background information for firearm sales, but had been rejected.
”One area that we’ve previously had unanimous agreement on is the regulation that requires farmers to buy more guns than they need.
“You can have a handgun as a farmer, but if you want to shoot recreationally you’ve got to get a separate gun.
“In the same way, a Pistol Club member has to buy a rifle to chase pigs.
“The Police Union don’t think this is good and we’ve said we’ll support changes.
“Once you have a firearm and you’ve been checked and you have security in place, you should be able to use the one gun.
“This minister has refused to pick up on the work we’ve already done on that. It’s basically a gift we want to give him.”
Claiming there were 100 police employed in the Weapons Licencing branch engaged in paperwork, Mr Nioa said the Firearms Dealers Association wanted to champion an automatic Permit to Acquire system, which would verify whether a licence was valid at the point of sale at every firearm dealership, rather than the current paper-based system.
He said it was in operation in New South Wales and Victoria.
“In today’s world of depression, domestic violence and radicalisation, people can have pieces of paper in their pocket but no dealer is aware of underlying issues.
“The minister has refused to close that loophole.”
Mr Nioa added that he had approached six ministers on both sides of politics about such a scheme.