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First published in The Age on May 11, 1996
National ban on weapons
The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, yesterday won a significant victory when all states and territories endorsed a national ban on automatic and semi-automatic rifles.
But one exception promoted by Victoria will allow farmers limited access to some low-powered weapons if they can satisfy police they have a special need.
The Prime Minister, John Howard, at a press conference with Police Ministers from around Australia.Credit: The Age Archives
The agreement came after a day of tough haggling by the nation's police ministers. Mr Howard declared last night: "This is a historic moment for all Australians still reeling from the fatal shootings at Port Arthur."
The Victorian Police Minister, Mr McGrath, said he was "reasonably satisfied" with the result, which made provision for farmers.
This would apply in special cases such as a rabbit plague or when sheep had to be destroyed in a drought.
The Victorian chief police commissioner, Mr Neil Comrie, said the deal was "an outstanding achievement. It's a day that will go down in Victoria's history as a victory for the community over the minority."
John Howard leads the State Police Ministers to the conference room to discuss gun law reform.Credit: Andrew Meares
The Premier, Mr Kennett, said Victorians and Australians generally should be relieved and gratified by yesterday's decisions. He said states, territories and the Commonwealth "have acted cooperatively, swiftly, with common sense and in good faith to draw up some of the toughest gun laws anywhere in the world".
But the Sporting Shooters Association, which claims a membership of up to 50,000, condemned the ban as "one of the greatest infringements on the liberties of individuals in Australia's history". The national president, Mr Ted Drane, condemning Mr Howard as a fool, said shooters would be prepared to spend up to $1 million to campaign against the proposed new laws.
Yesterday's agreement also includes a nationwide approach to registration and licensing.
The deal prohibits the importation, ownership, sale, resale, transfer, possession, manufacture or use of: * All military-style centre-fire rifles, including those that substantially duplicate military styles.
* All other self-loading centre-fire rifles.
* All self-loading and pump-action shotguns.
* All self-loading rim-fire rifles.
Mr Howard said the import ban would begin at once.
He said the exceptions would be for a limited range of official (police, military) or occupational purposes certified by a permit.
"In practice, this will mean that primary producers can only have access to low-powered self-loading .22s and self- loading and pump-action shotguns if they can satisfy the police that they have a genuine need for them which cannot be met by any other means or by non-prohibited weapons," Mr Howard said.
Twelve-month licences would be available for these special purposes.
He said action would be taken to strictly regulate mail orders.
The states have agreed to legislate as soon as possible for the agreement. Compensation will be paid for the hundreds of thousands of guns – precise estimates are being worked out – that the governments want handed in. Mr Howard will write next week to state leaders about the details of financing.
The integrated licensing system, linked nationally, would ensure "that only those persons who are fit and proper with a genuine reason and need for a firearm will have access to one", the Prime Minister said.
There will be stringent storage requirements, compulsory safety training for first-time licence applicants, and tight controls on the sale, advertising for sale and transfer of all firearms and ammunition.
Members of the public looking at rifles on display.Credit: Peter Stoop
Mr Howard said the agreement differed from the plan he advanced in two ways – one tougher, the other softer. It was tougher because it included the pump-action shotguns that were not in his original proposal. It was "a touch weaker" in including the provision for primary producers to get access under special circumstances to a low-powered semi-automatic.
"I would have thought on balance you would probably argue that this is actually a slightly tougher proposal than we put in because of the reinclusion of the pump-action shotguns, " Mr Howard told a news conference also attended by state ministers.
But the Tasmanian Coalition for Gun Control said the result was only a first step to a satisfactory gun-control regime.
The Federal Opposition congratulated Mr Howard and the states on yesterday's agreement. The shadow attorney-general, Senator Bolkus, promised "full support in implementing these measures so that Australians get the gun laws we need".
ACTION ON GUNS.
THE DECISION: * Total ban on importation, ownership, sale, resale, transfer, posession, manufacture or use of automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.
* A national approach to registration and licensing.
A .22 calibre semi-automatic rifle.Credit: Steven Siewert
WHAT`S BANNED: * ALL military-style centre-rifles, including those which substantially duplicate military styles.
* ALL other self-loading centre-fire rifles.
* ALL self-loading and pump-action shotguns.
* ALL self-loading rimfire rifles.
THE EXCEPTIONS: Weapons for limited range of official or occupational purposes (including military and police) certified by a permit.
THE TIMING: * Ban on importation immediately.
* Other bans as soon as states and territories can pass the necessary regulations or legislation.
VICTORIA`S REACTION: "I am reasonably satisfied with the result"– Police minister Bill McGrath.
"(governments) have acted cooperatively, swiftly and in good faith to draw up some of the toughest gun laws anywhere in the world" — Premier Jeff Kennett.
WHO SAID WHAT: "This country, through its governments, has decided not to go down the American path" — Prime Minister John Howard.
"Some people will be affected but I'm sure that they will be more than adequately compensated. I hope in time they will realise that a difficult decision had to be made" — Queensland Police Minister Russell Cooper.
"I believe that the people – taken in total – will be very stronglt supportive of what has been done today" — Western Australian Police Minister Bob Wiese.
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