Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, after some policy commitments were made by the Liberal Party before the last state election, there was a substantial firearms inquiry in Tasmania. You and I were both members. The final report was supported by all members of the committee; it had tripartisan support. Its first recommendation is a strong statement of commitment to the National Firearms Agreement, affirming that firearms possession and use is a privilege, conditional on the overriding need to ensure public safety.
I have a couple of questions about some of the recommendations.
Recommendation 5 -
The Committee recommends that Firearms Services and medical authorities undertake a formal review to resolve matters relating to the duty to notify concerns about persons believed to have firearms licences, and that this is followed by an education campaign, including the production of appropriate information resources.
Can you please tell me what actions have been taken in relation to this recommendation, and what Budget items have been allocated for it?
Mr SHELTON - From a general perspective, Tasmania has strong firearms laws, and some of the strongest in the nation. Of course, the Government is committed to not weakening those at all. As I've said very clearly in the past, we will do nothing to weaken the National Firearms Agreement or compromise our gun laws in any way. The Government is reviewing the committee's report. Before responding to the specific recommendations, it is important to remember that the Government moved to establish the committee. Tasmanian firearms laws are among some of the toughest in the world and the Government will do nothing to weaken them, as I have already said. At this time I haven't moved or progressed those recommendations at all. It has been a very busy year because of COVID 19 and a number of other things. There is no recommendation in the Budget or funding in the Budget.
Dr WOODRUFF - I remind you that this report was submitted - I think it was July last year - well before COVID 19. Can I remind you that we are talking about are life and death matters, particularly to do with the safety of women - often in family violence situations - firearm licencing checks, and with the mental health condition of a person who would receive a firearms licence, and the complexity -
CHAIR - Have you got a question Dr Woodruff?
Dr WOODRUFF - of how GPs will -.
CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, have you got a question?
Dr WOODRUFF - work on this -.
CHAIR - Dr Woodruff. Have you got a question?
Dr WOODRUFF - Well, I would like to ask the minister, notwithstanding the money side of it, what action will you take this year to undertake a formal review according to recommendation 5 to bring together Firearm Services and medical authorities to investigate this matter which came up continually throughout the hearings, to get to the nub of the problem about the mental health situation of a person who is making an application for a firearm? It would be very helpful if you could ask Firearm Services to respond.
Mr SHELTON - Thank you for putting those issues to me; I appreciate that. Tasmania Police manages the issue of firearms licences, which involves a written application, eligibility checks and the completion of the firearm safety training course. When assessing firearm licence applications, various aspects are taken into consideration. There is a legal requirement for a person to be fit and proper, which means that among other criteria, their mental health and physical condition must be of a standard that allows them to exercise reasonable and responsible control over that firearm.
Mr HINE - It is a really good question about how we keep the community safe with the regulation of firearms. Firearm Services has been working with the medical profession to develop an understanding from our point of view to the medical profession; there have been several meetings. A communication strategy is being developed to cover those very issues because we all play a part in keeping our community safe, so we have been working on that. I am not sure if Mr Higgins can add to that. I have spoken to our Firearms Services manager and they have been out there with the various medical professions doing a tour to educate them, to work out the communication strategy, and to cover some of the issues you raised.
Dr WOODRUFF - Could the commissioner say whether the arrangements with the medical community are at the formal review stage, which was recommended in the firearms inquiry or are they more informal? Will you be moving towards a formal review of the matters raised in the report because that is what was recommended?
Mr HIGGINS - The manager of Firearm Services has reached out to medical professionals and has given them a conduit so they can report back any issues they may have with patients in relation to firearms. Is it a formal process? I can describe it more as a formal process where Firearm Services has been proactive in trying to educate the medical professionals on their obligations - and what they can do to - to help prevent harm in the community in that respect. Licences can be suspended when information comes in, especially particularly critical information with licence holders, so we can make sure that those who shouldn't have firearms don't have firearms.
Dr WOODRUFF - So, there's a formal mechanism in place -
CHAIR -Dr Woodruff. I am moving the call on. I'm going to Mr O'Byrne first.
Dr WOODRUFF - Recommendation 3 from the Select Committee on Firearms Legislation and Policy final report says -
The Committee recommends that the Government ensures that Firearm Services has the resources and staffing required for improved interactions and important service delivery, including development of information to improve public awareness of legislation and services; and to ensure that applications, renewals, background checks, risk alerts (for example suicide, family violence, mental illness) and concerns of licence holders are processed as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Can you please tell me whether and how much you've put in the Budget to further support Firearm Services to do the safety work they need to do?
Mr SHELTON - As I indicated in my opening statement, $46 million was going to Project Unify. Some of that money is to upgrade different systems throughout the policing service and part of that is for Firearm Services. For some of the details I'll go to the commissioner.
Mr HINE - Information is key in today's society and the quickness with which information can be gathered is certainly key. We're really pleased that $46 million is to be allocated to Project Unify. A portion of that will be used to update our firearm systems, including a public interface and licensing system and also the administration of the backend of the data to cover those issues you quite rightly raise.
It is a priority of the project. We know the funding is over four years, but it is a priority of the project to deliver it in the second phase. We have already delivered the first phase.
Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. Minister, recommendation 9 was -
TasTAFE should continue as the single provider of firearms safety training and does have the required resources to enable an increase in the number of firearm safety training courses being offered state-wide as well as providing the course in more regional areas.
Do you agree that should continue with TasTAFE being the single provider? Have you added any resources into TasTAFE to allow it to do that work?
Mr SHELTON - That is a recommendation of the committee and that work from TasTAFE still continues.
Dr WOODRUFF - So you agree with it? I asked whether you agree with it as the minister responsible?
Mr SHELTON - That is the process in place at the moment.
Dr WOODRUFF - So they should continue and there should not be any other private providers who come in to do that work?
Mr SHELTON - That was the recommendation of the committee. I have not actually taken the report to the Government, but at this time I would not see there would be any change.
Dr WOODRUFF - When will you take the report to the Government? When will it go to Cabinet for discussion? It was 18 months ago.
Mr SHELTON - Time lines. and it is part of the work plan. It has not been a high priority for me at this point, because COVID-19 has overtaken all that; we hope COVID-19 is behind us, but, of course, you never know. I hasten to say when we are over COVID-19 - and we touch some wood here - but at an appropriate time. I am not going to commit to time lines.
Dr WOODRUFF - A report gathering dust on firearms safety is not a priority for you? Wow.