Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Amendment (Firearms Offences) Bill 2015

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT (Prospect) [12.49 p.m.]: I support the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Amendment (Firearms Offences) Bill 2015. The purpose of the bill is to establish and increase standard non-parole periods for a number of firearm offences. As members know, the Standard Non-Parole Periods [SNPP] scheme was introduced by legislation in 2002 as an alternative to mandatory sentencing. The SNPP scheme represents the non-parole period for an offence in the middle range of objective seriousness. Critics argue that the scheme restricts judicial discretion and makes sentence more complex. In fact, judicial discretion is retained and it is preferable to mandatory sentencing. I agree with that.

The Government has presented the proposals in the bill as a significant toughening of the laws when, in fact, they result from a careful consideration of the standard non-parole periods in a Sentencing Council report. That being the case, the bill is not the Government crackdown that has been sold to the public. The Sentencing Council was asked to review the SNPP scheme rather than to crack down on gun crime. The recommendations included a range of criminal offences and were not limited to gun crime. The Sentencing Council report was dated December 2013. Legislation was only introduced 18 months later. In any event, there is limited evidence that increased penalties deter offending. Likelihood of apprehension is a much more effective deterrent.

As the member for Prospect living in Western Sydney, I am aware that over the past few weeks shots have been fired in my electorate. It is a general occurrence in the area. We hear news reports almost weekly of gun crime all over Western Sydney. Gun crime has decreased over the past months, which is a credit to the police force. It is also a credit to the proactive policing taking place in Blacktown, Holroyd and Fairfield that is helping to cut down on the number of shootings. It is notable that many raids have been carried out and restrictive actions have been taken against bikie gangs within the Prospect electorate at Wetherill Park and other places. That has also occurred in Horsley Park and Mulgoa in neighbouring electorates, which must also have helped to reduce gun crime. However, there is much more we can do to reduce gun crime and other types of crime in the Prospect electorate and throughout Western Sydney.

Almost every month in the past four years there have been serious incidents involving gun crime in the Fairfield, Blacktown and Holroyd local area commands, all of which are within my electorate. More than 350 shootings have taken place in Western Sydney since 2011. I come to the solution from two angles. The first is as a barrister and former senior lecturer at the School of Policing, who has worked closely with law enforcement in New South Wales and overseas. The second is as a father with a young family of two daughters. The safety and security of families in Western Sydney is a matter close to my heart.

We need tougher laws on guns and ammunition sales and ownership. We must strengthen the criminal justice system so that penalties reflect the menace of gun crime and its impact in Western Sydney and New South Wales. We need a focus on high-visibility policing to deter criminal activity. We need a strong response from police when there is a critical incident. When a shooting incident happens the scene must go into lockdown and must have the best detectives and forensic investigators on the scene. We need to target the criminals from all angles—seizing their weapons and the profits of their illegal activities including their houses, cars, bank accounts and any other toy they obtained from illicit proceeds. Police need to work closely with the local community to gain its trust and build strategies together to target these criminals.

As a result of the State Government budget cuts the Fairfield, Blacktown, Holroyd and local area commands are currently short of their allocated authorised strength. We need more police on the beat, not less. When crime in Western Sydney is rising we should be asking: Why is the Baird Government cutting the police budget? Why do we not have enough police officers in local area commands? What is the Minister for Western Sydney doing about it? And what have we been doing to fight to keep local police officers in our communities?

The first thing we can do is reverse the Coalition Government's slashing of police officer numbers in our community and give the police the resources and community support they need to fight crime. The spiralling rise in shooting crimes in Sydney's western suburbs requires strong and sustained political, community and police action to keep the suburbs safe for families. I happen to live in a suburb that has been ringed by shooting incidents. One recently took place just around the corner from my home. Although we have not had any shooting in Greystanes police have twice raided homes at which weapons were being manufactured. In fact, an area commander joked to me that they are not going to shoot in the area because it is where they manufacture the weapons.

Like many of my neighbours, I can see that the State Government is seeking but not offering new strategies or solutions to fight the gun crime that is plaguing Western Sydney. It is not just well-organised bikie gangs that are to blame; it is a range of criminals and business rivals who all have access to guns. They are escalating rather than settling all manners of disputes by carrying out targeted shootings. As a result of "normalisation" it is only a matter of time before handguns become more widely used in disputes among traditionally law-abiding members of the public and shootings follow the United States trend and occur in places such as Australian high schools.

We are not talking about rifles but concealed weapons—namely, pistols. We need new and tighter controls on pistols and ammunition, which perhaps should include a new buyback scheme for pistols. A previous speaker mentioned the Howard Government's buyback scheme, which was a credit to that Coalition Government. It worked effectively and perhaps we need a modernised version of that scheme. It would certainly have my support. The new controls should also include a national register and perhaps a strengthening of border control strategies because the majority of handguns come from overseas suppliers.

There also needs to be a greater high-profile police presence in the suburbs that are most affected by shootings and the police response to shooting incidents needs to be immediate and unrelenting. The community will support strong and hard action by police against criminals. Criminals are reacting to a lack of enforcement, a lack of police in key target suburbs and what appears to be a lack of political will by the State Government to really take on the problems of gun crime and criminal gang activity. An example of the Government's lack of will was its announcement almost two years ago in response to a batch of up to five shootings in one day. The Government changed the law so that most outlaw motorcycle gang members would be unable to wear their colours in nightclubs in Kings Cross. Police and criminals alike met that announcement with howls of laughter. How does changing a dress code stop gun crime? In addition, Kings Cross is in the eastern suburbs—nowhere near where the shootings were occurring in the western suburbs.

During the 1990s Victoria faced a similar dilemma with smaller organised crime groups that had resorted to shootings and bombings to settle disputes. The police response was slow at that time because the view of most Victorian police officers was that as long as the criminals were shooting other criminals it should not matter too much and it really was not a concern for the general public. That view drastically changed when Jason Moran was shot at a children's sporting event in a mini-van as children sat terrified in the back seat. It has now become clear that if the Baird Government will not take on the people who use guns to settle disputes or give the police the support and direction they need it is time for our local community organisations to take up the challenge. The most enduring fix will come from the combined effect of public community groups exerting pressure on the government and police to break the culture of gang and criminal activity that sponsors gun use as an acceptable recourse for dispute resolution.

Communities in Western Sydney must start taking action to organise and reclaim street safety in their suburbs. If the State Government cannot fix the escalating problem, the community must stand up and demand an end to gun violence in Western Sydney. It was that type of community action that helped fight the devastating impact of Vietnamese crime gangs that controlled the heroin trade in Cabramatta. We need to send a clear message to this Government and the gun-wielding criminals that we will support whatever action is needed to make our streets safe again. For me the big question is what it will take for the Government to act to solve the gun crime problem. Will it take a Port Arthur style massacre in Western Sydney?

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