Thursday, 03 February 2022

Press conference – National Illicit Firearms Campaign

​​Joint press conference with the Hon Jason Wood MP​​

Topics: Launch of Phase Two of the National Illicit Firearms Campaign.

STELLA SMITH: My name is Stella Smith. I’m the Director of Crime Stoppers Australia I’m delighted to be here today to welcome you all to the State Library of Victoria for the launch of Phase Two of the National Illicit Firearms Campaign. I would particularly like to welcome the Honourable Karen Andrews, Minister for Home Affairs and the Hon Jason Wood, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs. First I would like to welcome to the lectern Minister Andrews.

KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you very much, Stella. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here this morning with you and also with Assistant Minister Wood for what is a particularly important announcement, which is to make sure that we are doing absolutely everything that we can to get illegal guns off the streets. This announcement is all about what we can do to make sure we are protecting the Australian community.

In July last year, Assistant Minister Wood announced that there would be Australia’s first permanent firearms amnesty, and since that time around about 11,000 firearms have been surrendered here in Australia. So that’s 11,000 firearms that are not out in the community now, potentially killing or maiming hundreds or thousands of people. The fact this campaign has now been running since July last year and has resulted already in 11,000 illegal weapons being surrendered speaks a lot about the success of the program and also the fact that there is a lot more we can and need to be doing to keep our community safe. That’s why we’re here today, to speak about phase two of that program, and to encourage people to surrender their illegal firearms, because if they don’t, they risk that the police will be knocking on their door, and when that happens they will be subject to some pretty significant fines and potentially some time in jail. So, this is an opportunity – if you have those illegal weapons, hand them in. Make sure you’re on the front foot; hand them in so the police aren’t knocking on your door to get them. Our message today is very clear, and that is that if you have an illegal firearm in your possession, do the right thing and hand it in.

Australians already recognise that the Morrison Government is well on the front foot to make sure we are protecting our communities. The work that has been done by Crime Stoppers has been an absolute bonus to us to be able to support our communities to keep them safe. We know that illegal firearms often lead to quite serious crimes being committed in our community. We know that they are often secured very poorly and that means these firearms can go into the wrong hands or even kids at home can pick up an illegal firearm, killing or maiming themselves and others. We don’t want that to be happening. So, part of the Morrison Government agenda is to make sure that we are keeping the community safe. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work with our Australian Federal law enforcement agency, that’s the Australian Federal Police, to make sure that everything that can be done to keep our community safe is being done. I would like to invite Assistant Minister Wood to the podium to talk more about Phase Two of the program.

JASON WOOD: Thanks very much, everyone, for your attendance here today. It’s great to have the Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews here – obviously the weather’s not as you’re used to – but it’s great to have everyone here today. Also, can I just thank Crime Stoppers, Stella, also the Home Affairs Department. We’ve got all the Crime Stoppers team here today. Also Victoria Police for your great support and all police around the country. And I want to thank Detective Superintendent Peter Brigham. I know you’ve been very passionate about the firearm amnesty. Also my good friend who I used to work with at the Organised Crime Squad, Mick Daly. It’s great to see you here today Mick and also Senior Sergeant Steve Farrar from the ballistics unit and the whole team. The reason I recognise the Victorian Police is they’re on the front-line every single day when it comes to looking after and protecting people but also going after those people with illegal firearms. I also acknowledge the traditional owners of our land and their Elders, past and present.

As Minister Andrews said, July 2021, the Morrison Government launched Australia’s first permanent firearm amnesty, and what I mean by that it was the first permanent one and I very much thank all the states and territories. This will be an ongoing campaign. Despite obstructions caused by COVID outbreaks, Australians have stepped up, handing over 11,000 items since the launch of the permanent amnesty, including gun weapons and gun parts. The amnesty follows on from the success of the three‑ month amnesty of 2017, which saw 57,000 firearms surrendered. Australians typically have handed in this time firearms, rifles, shotguns. We also had a number of handguns, a crossbow and even a flamethrower, believe it or not, handed in. These are only the surrenders that have been reported to the Commonwealth so far and we know the number is even greater. Crime Stoppers – and I just congratulate again the team – the YouTube advertisement will be launching Phase Two today. The national firearms amnesty has attracted 672,000 views since the 2021 launch, while the amnesty has been picked up by broadcasters in all states and territories. Again, I thank the media here today for your interest and driving here it was great to hear the radio stations talking about the firearm amnesty. This is all part of a wider Crime Stoppers campaign that the Morrison Government committed $3.6 million to through proceeds of crime. I very much thank Hon Karen Andrews; she signed off that proceeds of crime funding. Effectively, we’re using seized funds from criminals to actually go after illegal firearms. These efforts have been directed at one goal: ensuring that there are no illegal firearms in Australia. The firearms community, gun control advocates and governments are all aligned behind the common purpose. Our focus remains removing illegal firearms from the community and not targeting lawful firearm owners. I commend Australians for coming forward to do the right thing but more work is needed to be done to keep Australians safe from gun violence.

There are estimated to be 260,000 illegal guns in circulation in Australia. That’s just way too many. These illegal guns are a threat to Australians and the simple question is: Why? Because there is no such thing as a safe illegal gun. Every illegal gun is a dangerous gun for you and your family. We know that the victims of domestic violence are at greater risk of severe harm if their partner or former partner has access to an illegal gun. Illegal guns are often difficult to trace, helping individuals to kill without fear of repercussion or used in serious crimes. Illegal guns are also more likely, as Minister Andrews said, to be defective or stored insecurely. They are, basically, an accident waiting to happen, especially for a child who may find the gun could be maimed or killed.

In the criminal underworld, the weapon of choice is an illegal firearm. In many cases, criminal gangs will target individuals who have illegal firearms to gain access to weapons. I’m calling on the Australian community to address this threat. If you know or suspect that someone has an illegal gun, which includes an unregistered firearm, you can share that information with Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or at crimestoppers.com.au/illegalgun.

You can feel safe in sharing what you know. You can report to Crime Stoppers anonymously and your information will be kept confidential. I know that speaking up can be very difficult, especially if you know the person holding an illegal firearm. But please speak up before it is too late. It is the right thing to do. Speaking up could save someone’s life, including a loved one, yourself or friend or family member. In speaking up you can ensure an illegal firearm is taken away before harm is done. You have the power to protect loved ones and the wider Australian community. You don’t want to live with uncertainty and fear. Report it to Crime Stoppers. This is what the second part of the campaign is about. It is about the opportunity to hand the illegal firearm in when they haven’t done so. To those who have an illegal firearm, the message is clear. Hand the firearm in. It’s the right thing to do. If you do not hand that illegal firearm in, you will be caught by the police and potentially go to jail.

The second message is for those who know of someone who has an illegal firearm and they haven’t handed it in or they’re not prepared to hand it in, report them to Crime Stoppers. They’re potentially dangerous to themselves, to you, to family and friends and the Australian wider community. It is the right thing to do.

Because from today if you don’t hand it in, someone will speak up. This is what this message is about. We want the Australian community to speak up. Criminals consider illegal firearms to be very high-value assets. They are currently on the lookout for these guns, especially at farms and homes across Australia. And when they find them, they take them and will do with them whatever they want to. It’s obviously illegal – if they’re in the hands of a criminal organised crime group the only reason they’ve got them is to commit crimes. If you hold on to that firearm, you’ve made yourself a target for everyone around you. Do the right thing and hand it in. The Crime Stoppers website outlines how to surrender your firearm and how to do it in a COVID-safe way. Every state and territory is different in how we hand it in.

I’ll now hand over to Crime Stoppers Australia representative Stella Smith to speak about this further, and again could I thank Crime Stoppers for the great work they do. Thank you.

STELLA SMITH: Thank you, Assistant Minister Wood, and thank you, Minister Andrews. Crime Stoppers is Australia’s most trusted information receiving service when it comes to unsolved crime and suspicious activity. For this reason, we are pleased to once again partner with the Commonwealth Government on this important campaign to reduce the number of illegal guns in the community.

The permanent firearms amnesty launched last year has given people with an unregistered or unwanted firearm the chance to surrender that gun without penalty. Now, it is time to step up the approach to illegal guns. If you have an illegal gun, you need to surrender that gun now. Or you risk being reported by someone who has information about you. If you are caught with an illegal gun that you could have surrendered under amnesty conditions, then you could face serious criminal penalties, including imprisonment. Time and time again, we have seen the tragic loss of life and severe injuries that occur when people turn a blind eye, stay silent and allow illegal guns to remain in our community. Crime Stoppers has always given the opportunity to people to safely share what they know about crime. Last year, across the country, over half a million people contacted Crime Stoppers. That’s hundreds of thousands of pieces of information about crime that has come in to Crime Stoppers. Those tips have come from people who trust us.

This is the largest and most significant campaign that we have ever undertaken to encourage the community to come forward with information about illegal guns. If you have information or you are close to an illegal gun, then there is a risk to you. You may be targeted by criminals; you may receive a visit from the police; or you may be at risk from the gun itself. Crime Stoppers is asking you to come forward with what you know about illegal guns. You can share what you know with Crime Stoppers without having to tell us who you are.

In the coming months we will be delivering a comprehensive engagement campaign through social media, advertising and community engagement activities, encouraging people with information about illegal guns to share what they know with Crime Stoppers. We all have a part to play in community safety. Now is the time to share what you know about illegal guns with Crime Stoppers safely and confidentially. Your information may ultimately save a life. No illegal guns is our aim. Please make it your aim too and say something before it is too late. Share what you know confidentially and safely with Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or at crimestoppers.com.au.

Thank you. We will now take any questions.

JOURNALIST: While you’re there, who are you actually expecting this campaign to appeal to?

STELLA SMITH: There are a number of people who have information about guns, and there’s really two parts to this. This is a reminder to the people who haven’t surrendered a gun during amnesty conditions, and we’ve had COVI D circumstances so there’s been lockdowns and people have thought, “I’ll put that off until later”, this is really a reminder to those people that now is the time to do something about that and surrender the firearm. In reference to other people who have information about guns, they could be people who are in close proximity to the guns. So that may be mates. It may be people who you have come into contact with in the past. Could be other criminals. It could be anybody really. I think the issue is we don’t actually know where all of those guns are, and that’s why we want the information from people, so we can get them out of the community. The people closest to those guns are at the most risk.

JOURNALIST: How do you expect them or do you expect people in that position to respond?

STELLA SMITH: I think if they know they can come forward safely and confidentially and share that information – we’ve been doing this for over 34 years. We’re highly trusted and everything as we do about respecting the people who come to us. You don’t hear a lot about the successes of Crime Stoppers. We do a lot across the country, but we’re very quiet about it and that’s because – in most organisations people would be screaming from the rooftops if you had the success we had, but we don’t do it because we’re always concerned if we called out a particular case, we would put somebody at risk.

JOURNALIST: The three‑ month amnesty in 2017 resulted in 57,000 guns being handed in. This one resulted in 11,000 guns being handed in. Why do you think fewer firearms are being handed in?  

STELLA SMITH: I think people recognise that there’s a risk; to be honest, I think that’s what it is. And I think for a lot of people, the gun is close to them, often they don’t need it, they don’t want it or they haven’t understood the risk. So, criminals will target properties where there are guns and if it’s easy for them to get them, then those guns can move from what’s known as the grey market, they’re often the old guns that are pre-1996, and they move into the black market. So, imagine the horror if you have an old firearm that is been left there that you didn’t really care about and suddenly that gun is used commit a crime. The last thing you want is to be worrying about police knocking on your door or the thought that your gun may have contributed to someone else’s death.

JOURNALIST: For people watching at home who are scared to report, it may be a violent situation, what do you have to say to them?

STELLA SMITH: I would say to them: come along like the other people have. Come forward because we’re here to help you. We’re a community organisation. We work closely with the police and we work closely with media and the community. Everything we do is about protecting those people. We have no interest in who they are, really. It’s the information that we want. So, they’re under no pressure to tell us who they are. We just want to know what they know.

JASON WOOD: Can I just make a point? I go back to my days in the Police Force. Quite often a family member could pass away, had a gun licence, had a firearm at home. The family weren’t aware of it. They discover the firearm. Then they’re not sure what to do about it. This is that time, when they can contact Crime Stoppers and report that firearm and work out how to hand it in. At the same time, as Stella said, it’s so important to get those illegal firearms. And quite often we know – last night Victoria Police was talking about this – a number of farming properties have firearms there. They actually are being targeted by organised crime groups so the message is also for the regional community to hand those firearms in.

JOURNALIST: What gives you confidence that authorities, police, state police, will follow and find illicit guns?

JASON WOOD: The simple reason is we’ve had 11,000 firearms passed in. Obviously, we have got Victoria Police here today and the information is passed on to Crime Stoppers, and obviously an assessment is done to verify the information, and we go through it, and Victoria Police and law enforcement agencies across Australia have been doing a sensational job when it comes to targeting illegal firearms.

JOURNALIST: The ones that aren’t reported, what gives you confidence – if people don’t surrender them, don’t offer them up, they’re going to be found?

JASON WOOD: This is the point Stella made before. A firearm subsequently gets used in crime. Police catch the person. They trace back where the firearm’s come from, and quite often, believe it or not, criminals actually talk and they advise criminals. Police go and talk to the person. The person with the illegal firearm I have no doubt will be charged for not passing on that information to police or surrendering the firearm.

JOURNALIST: Could the police forces around Australia do better or have more success?

JASON WOOD: Absolutely. We’ve got the Victoria Police here today. You’ve got the Superintendent from the gang’s taskforce. And that’s the law enforcement’s role, to go in there hard and go after the illegal firearms. Can I say, too, myself and obviously Minister Karen Andrews here with Australian Border Force – Australian Border Force last year seized over 2,400 firearms coming into Australia, and with the update of scanning equipment, they continue to do an incredible job at the border. 

Most of the firearms we’re talking about here have been in Australia for some time. So, again the message here from the Australian Government, the Morrison Government, is looking at that person who has an illegal firearm at home, it’s time to hand that firearm in and do the right thing and if you don’t hand it in and you’re caught, you can potentially go to jail or your firearm could be used in a crime and traced back to you. And for those who know someone who has an illegal firearm, again, do the right thing and report it to Crime Stoppers before that person may do harm to themselves, to you, your family or potentially committing another crime.

JOURNALIST: What gives you confidence that illicit guns that are not surrendered will be found?

JASON WOOD: Well, there’s no way we can stand up here and say illicit firearms will be detected. This is a campaign. It is about public awareness. It is about making sure the Australian community know it’s the right thing to report someone who has an illegal firearm at home. It is the right thing to do. And at the same time too that person may have an illegal firearm at home thinking: What do I do? The message is very loud and clear you’ll hand that firearm in before it’s too late.

JOURNALIST: Are there any repercussions for the people who hand them in?

JASON WOOD: It can be anonymously handed in. Obviously, Victoria Police and law enforcement agencies around the country, they’ll determine whether firearms have been linked to a crime. Obviously, that comes to law enforcement. But obviously, if it’s been used in crime, it’s the priority of the police to determine if that is the case. Most of these firearms haven’t been used in a crime, and the reason I say that, they’re just stored at home and haven’t been used, we want those handed in. I again thank Minister Karen Andrews here today because she’s been fantastic when it comes to counter-terrorism, she’s been doing major work when it comes to legislation and also with the AFP and also intelligence, and to come out here today in Melbourne and support us with this second phase launch just shows how dedicated Minister Karen Andrews and all Government members and all members right across the country from all political persuasions are very much focused on targeting illegal firearms.

JOURNALIST: You said there’s 260,000 illegal firearms in Australia. Do you know where they are, rural areas or organised crime? Do you have an idea?

JASON WOOD: I don’t have a percentage obviously when it comes to those in, how should I say, organised crime’s hands but the majority would be those where a person has got a firearm at their home and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has passed on that information.

JOURNALIST: That number has been pretty steady for at least six years. Is that still valid, do you think?

JASON WOOD: I think it’s still valid. Obviously, it comes to what firearms are coming into the country. Again, they are being detected and we are looking at putting legislation in place where people actually send parts of firearms. They say to make a firearm – we’ve got a ballistic expert here today who says there’s 34 parts to make a firearm, so myself and Minister Andrews are looking at legislation to make sure we know how to capture that market.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned before that illegal guns can be an accident waiting to happen. What would you say to someone who might have an illegal firearm but might also have a child?

JASON WOOD: I can actually tell you a story about myself and my late father. When I was young, we did have a firearm in the cupboard, and one day my brother and I thought it was a good idea to take out the firearm in the street and play with it. The neighbours came over and said, “Guess what your kids were doing today?” And he handed in the firearm that night. I have personal experience with that and sadly if you have got an illegal firearm, as we heard before, most likely it’s not properly stored. It does not have a gun cabinet. It could be stored under a bed; it could be stored anywhere and that’s the issue. We just can’t take that risk. Any further questions?

JOURNALIST: Minister, what do you understand is the extent of the importation of black market firearms?

KAREN ANDREWS: We have the Australian Border Force working hard at our borders to make sure they are detecting the importation of illegal weapons. Now, they act very much on tip-offs, but they also use dogs, they also use X-ray machines at the border to discover the importation of illegal weapons. Now, that varies over time but we are aware that there continue to be illegal firearms being brought into this country so the Australian Border Force is actually the first line of defence. The Australian Border Force works very closely with the Australian Federal Police and also with the state policing here in Victoria and other states as well to make sure that any firearms that they may be aware of that are out in the community, that information can be passed on to local policing. So, in reference to an earlier question about our level of confidence that state police will actually work to uncover and seize the weapons that are in the community, we have a very high level of confidence that state police will be out there and use whatever means are available to them and are necessary to uncover where those weapons are. We are very confident that state police are committed to getting those weapons off the street. Whether they do that by tip-offs themselves or whether they do that in the processes of executing a search warrant potentially for another matter, they will be working nonstop to make sure that those illegal weapons come off the streets.

JOURNALIST: So what are the numbers of weapons, parts, ammunition that’s been detected at the border and what do you believe would be the extent of the total market?

KAREN ANDREWS: I’m happy to come back to you with the exact number but we do know it’s an increasing number. It’s well into the thousands that are coming through over a period of 12 months. We also know that COVID has had an impact on the importation of a number of items into Australia, but as our borders reopen, and as the freight pathways continue to clear, and we get more flights coming in, we know that we can expect more weapons to be coming across our borders as well as a whole range of other illegal substances including drugs, including illicit tobacco coming through. I was actually visiting Border Force here in Melbourne just yesterday and there is a significant increase in their detections coming across the border, so they’ll continue to work hard to make sure that they are detected as much as they possibly can.

JOURNALIST: Have you ever referred to Prime Minister Scott Morrison as a ‘complete psycho’ in a text to former Premier Gladys Berejiklian?

KAREN ANDREWS: No, and I dealt with that issue yesterday. I’m here today to speak about matters that are particularly important to everyday Australians, and those issues are making sure that we are getting illegal weapons off the streets; that we’re making sure that our communities are safe; that our law enforcement agencies are properly funded. And yesterday I announced that there would be in excess of $60 million that would go towards countering violent extremism. Those are my priorities. I believe that those are things that are important to everyday Australians. That’s my job to concentrate on that and that’s what I will be doing.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any involvement in the leaking of those text messages? 

KAREN ANDREWS: No, and I dealt with issues in relation to that yesterday. Again, I can say I am here as the Minister for Home Affairs and I’m concentrated on the things, quite frankly, everyday Australians are focused on, and my number one priority is doing all that I can to ensure that Australians are safe in the community.

JOURNALIST: Is it a valid issue that the Government must address at the moment in terms of the Prime Minister’s standing and these messages and these things that have taken place?

KAREN ANDREWS: Look, it’s an issue that, quite frankly, is almost irrelevant to me. My care factor in relation to that particular text message is almost at zero. When we compare that to the everyday issues that Australians are dealing with, it is irrelevant, quite frankly. And I understand that there are some people who think that it is the topic of day and it is something that they are extremely interested in, but I’m interested in making sure that Australians are safe in our community. That is what I get up and do every single day, and I will continue to do that. I’m very confident in the Government that we have in this country. We have faced a range of challenges over the last two years that are unprecedented, and when we look at where Australia is now in terms of our response to COVID, it is almost second to none across the world. We do have very high levels of vaccination. We do have really low levels of death, and we don’t want any deaths here. But when you compare the Morrison Government’s response to COVI D to what has happened internationally, Australians can be very confident that at all times the Morrison Government has done what is needed to protect Australians. That is what we’ll continue to do and we’ll continue to do that under the leadership of Scott Morrison.

JOURNALIST: The cost of living is soaring for older people and the cost of rent for younger people. What is your government doing to help?

KAREN ANDREWS: We’re tackling those issues as we have in the past by doing all that we can to reduce the electricity prices. The Prime Minister made it very clear at the National Press Club that, in fact, electricity prices have come down under the Morrison Government. That is important to people. In terms of the cost of housing, we know that recently, particularly with COVID, house prices have surged in many parts of Australia. But what we have done is we have provided support to first homeowners to encourage people to get into the market. We’re supporting the housing industries to make sure that we are doing absolutely everything that we can to support people to get into houses, into existing accommodation, and we will continue to do that. Obviously, cost of living is front of mind to every single person in Australia. Australians can be ensured that the Morrison Government, the Coalition Government, is always focused on making sure that we have the lowest taxes we possibly can and we’re doing everything to keep prices down so the cost of living is as low as it possibly can be.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct].

JASON WOOD: Just working with a taskforce set up with the gun safety group but also the gun industry, and we’ve had feedback from law enforcement. So we’re just working with that and once the legislation is at such a stage, we’re obviously taking that to Minister Andrews and obviously looking at passing it through Parliament which I’m very excited about.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct].

JASON WOOD: The commercial quantities of firearms when it comes to parts and that’s what I was talking about in terms of numbers. Thank you. 

STELLA SMITH: Thank you, all very much for coming today. That concludes our launch of Phase Two of the National Illicit Firearms Campaign. Thank you.