To end gun-smuggling, we shouldn't disincentivize people doing the right thing in coming forward

Read the full speech below. 

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (17:36): In international Disarmament Week, we are definitely all united in this parliament in seeking to end gun smuggling and to ensure that gun smugglers receive the prison terms that they deserve. I also want to join with members on the Labor side to say that the best way to ensure that gun smugglers and gun runners get the prison sentences that they deserve is not to implement a law that will act as a disincentive to people coming forward with information about gun-smuggling offences and to juries committing people in respect of the offences connected with gun smuggling.

We are very concerned about those issues, and we're also very concerned about unintended consequences. I am a vice-patron of the Queensland Rifle Association. I'm not the only one, I hasten to say, but I'm one of the vice-patrons of the Queensland Rifle Association, along with my friend the member for Bonner. Unfortunately, he is not in here tonight, but I know that he takes his vice-patron duties very seriously, as do I. I would hate to see a situation where a member of that rifle association or of any other rifle association, or any other person who had a legitimate and lawful interest in firearms in this country, was caught up in the unintended consequences of what this government and this minister are seeking to do.

Take, for example, a farmer who goes overseas. I've got farmers in my family. Some of them enjoy shooting for sporting purposes. Obviously, they've been pretty handy with guns their whole lives. In fact, I was speaking with one of my cousins about this when I saw him in country North Queensland over winter. What of a farmer who has never been overseas before who goes to the United States, attends a gun show and finds a gun part that he thinks will be helpful to use when he's controlling pests back on the farm? He buys one for himself and one for his mate down the road, thinking that his mate might find it useful as well. He intends selling one to his mate down the road when he gets back to Australia, so he buys two. Upon returning to Australia, he gets caught when he goes through Customs. He's honest with the officer and tells him that he intends to sell one of the parts to his friend. That would satisfy the elements of trafficking, and he would be looking at a mandatory five years in prison if this government's legislation were allowed to get up. Judges would have no choice but to imprison him in the event of that occurring.

What of the unintended consequences? We talk about judicial discretion. We're not talking about ill-informed or unprofessional discretion; we're talking about a situation where judges are entrusted with the obligation to impose a sentence that is appropriate. And the job of our parliament should be to arm those judges with the ability and the power to impose heavy sentences where heavy sentences are warranted. That's the job of this parliament. The job of this parliament is not to restrict unreasonably the sentences that a court can impose in the event that they're appropriate.

The job of this parliament is not to issue directions to a judge to impose sentences mandatorily. If we do that we're not only undermining judicial discretion and the separation of powers but putting judges in a position where they will have to convict and imprison people in the circumstances that I just described. In the circumstance I just described there is somebody—innocently and thinking that it's okay—bringing back these gun parts from another country and intending them to sell them to the farmer down the road. That's not someone who should, in my submission and in my view, be sentenced to five years imprisonment mandatorily because of a decision of this parliament—a parliament!

Parliaments are not ideally suited to predicting every possible combination or permutation of events. We can't lay down a code that describes what should happen in every circumstance or in every event. What we can do is to make laws for the peace, good government and order of this nation; we can set down criminal offences; and we can then equip judges with what they need to ensure that sentences are appropriate. Let's not determine the sentences in individual cases; let's have appropriate laws. (Time expired)

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