DAVID Leyonhjelm says the Turnbull government has “welched” on a political agreement linked to overturning a 12 month importation ban on the Adler A110 lever action shotgun.
The NSW Liberal Democratic Senator is expecting to be re-elected for a second term when voting for the Upper House from the July 2 double dissolution election concludes this week.
But he’s seething at an announcement last week by Justice Minister Michael Keenan to extend the Adler ban and effectively dishonour a deal struck in the previous parliament.
Emails obtained by Fairfax Agricultural Media show Mr Keenan’s office signed-off on a sunset clause on the rifle’s importation about one year ago, along with Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton, after bargaining with the crossbench Senator.
“We confirm that Ministers Dutton and Keenan have agreed that the government will amend the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 to insert a sunset clause of 12 months into the recently amended provisions which ban the importation of lever action shot guns with a magazine capacity of more than 5 rounds,” said an email from an advisor in Mr Keenan’s office on August 12 last year.
“The effect of the sunset clause would be that 12 months after this amendment comes into effect the ban will automatically cease to be in place.
“In return, Senator Leyonhjelm will vote against the Labor amendments to the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometric Integrity) Bill 2015.”
The email chain said the government also agreed to commit to ongoing consultation between Minster Keenan - who is also the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter-Terrorism - and “a wide range of key stakeholders” including shooting associations and firearms dealers.
But Mr Keenen’s media statement last week contradicted that “good faith” arrangement, Senator Leyonhjelm said.
Mr Keenan said the import ban on lever-action shotguns with a magazine capacity of greater than five rounds and detachable firearms magazines with a capacity greater than five rounds was due to expire on August 7.
He said it was introduced due to the government’s concern that a significant number of high capacity lever action shotguns were shortly due to be imported into Australia.
Mr Keenan said the ban was based on the advice of Commonwealth, State and Territory law enforcement agencies and officials pending the outcomes of the review of the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) struck in 1996 following the Port Arthur Massacre.
“As that review is yet to be finalised, today the Australian government extended the prohibition on the importation of lever action shotguns with a magazine capacity of greater than five rounds,” he said.
“The prohibition is intended to be in place until the review of the NFA is concluded and the agreed outcomes are implemented.”
Senator Leyonhjelm said he spoke to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about the government “welching” on its agreement with him and got the impression the Prime Minister was being poorly advised by Mr Keenan.
”He (Mr Turnbull) didn’t seem to be aware of the facts and was repeating nonsense that could only have come from Keenan”, he said.
Senator Leyonhjelm said Mr Keenan’s statement represented a “direct betrayal” of an agreement they made and “in other words, the deal we did last year isn’t worth a pinch of shit”.
“As the email exchange shows, my agreement with the government is black and white,” he said.
“What this shows is that the government’s word is completely worthless even when it is in writing.”
Senator Leyonhjelm said apparently a deal was not a deal when it was struck with the Turnbull government; despite being in writing with senior ministers and their staff.
He said he would take the broken promise into account when negotiating with the government in future and also bring the matter to the attention of his fellow crossbench Senators.
“The government clearly cannot be trusted to keep its word,” he said.
Senator Leyonhjelm said the Coalition government was also being ridiculous about the seven shot Adler shotgun.
He said the five shot version was freely available and can be easily converted to hold seven or eight shots.
“Furthermore, rifles and pistols with 10 round magazines are treated no differently from those with small magazine capacities,” he said.
“Minister Keenan is obsessed with the Adler and receiving very poor advice from the firearms section of the Attorney General’s Department.”
NIOA - Australia’s leading privately owned small arms supplier – is understood to be looking to import the Turkish-made shotguns into Australia.
But in a statement last year when the Adler ban was first announced - pending the NFA review which resulted from the Martin Place siege - Robert Nioa from NIOA said no state or federal government department had expressed any concern to him about the firearm’s importation, which was for licensed owners.
“Most surprising is that there has been no public safety issue related to lever action shotguns in Australia for the 130 years that they have been available,” he said.
“The gun is needed for feral pest control in rural areas - primarily crop protection from birds and control of disease spread by wild pigs.
“There has been no consultation on this issue with farmers, licensed firearm owners or the Australian firearms industry and no government spokesman has been able to articulate a reason for the ban.”
Mr Keenan’s statement said States and Territories had primary responsibility for the regulation of firearms and would need to implement any NFA reforms, before the ban could be lifted.
He said extending the prohibition ensured the firearms in question can’t be imported into Australia legally, until there was a consistent national approach to its classification.
The review of the NFA is due to be considered by Commonwealth, state and territory Ministers later this year, he said.
Asked whether the government had broken its promise to Senator Leyonhjelm, a spokesperson for Mr Keenan said the ban was always intended to be temporary.
The spokesperson said the government was hopeful of reaching a resolution between jurisdictions regarding updates to the NFA, before the ban was due to sunset.
“As this review has not been finalised the government makes no apology for extending the ban until there is a nationally agreed NFA,” the spokesperson said.
The National Farmers’ Federation’s submission to the NFA review said the Adler shotgun had been subject to intense public debate and, “unfortunately much of this has lost sight of the facts”.
NFF said the shotgun’s design had been around for more than 100 years but a ‘new technology’ label was being used to indicate “all lever action firearms are a concern”.
“We have seen no evidence of any misuse with lever action firearms and believe that debate around this firearm could lead to poorly reasoned policy changes which affect law abiding firearms owners,” NFF said.
“There are likely hundreds of thousands of lever action firearms already in Australia; many thousands of them are lever action shotguns with the same design as the Adler.
“Not only has false information regarding the design been circulated widely, but also a ban on the importation of the shotgun in its original form was enacted before the review of the National Firearms Agreement was announced.
“The NFF views this decision to ban the importation of the Adler as an unfortunate and ill-conceived reaction to a poorly informed public furore.”
In its summary, the NFF said it was critical the focus of any changes to the NFA be cognisant of the need for primary producers to continue to access effective pest management tools and focussed on addressing the heart of the problem - being criminal misuse of firearms, rather than law abiding gun owners.
Mr Nioa said he was aware front line police were pressing governments for more resources to fight the illicit use of illegal firearms by criminals and “this might simply be a cheap way for governments to ignore the front line police and say they have done something”.
“It is much more convenient for government to write a letter to a farmer banning a tool of trade rather than provide the funding that is being requested by front line police,” he said.
Mr Dutton’s office was also included in the email exchange, confirming the deal struck last year with Senator Leyonhjelm.
In an email on August 12, 2015, to Ms Wood, Senator Leyonhjelm confirmed he agreed to support the government’s migration amendments in exchange for the sunset clause on the rifle importation ban.
“I’m serious about the consultation process being ongoing, not one-off or reactive, but I’m assuming there is good faith here,” he said.
“I have advised (Family First SA Senator) Bob Day accordingly and will speak to (Motoring Enthusiasts’ Party Victorian Senator) Ricky Muir shortly.”
The NFA sets out nationally-agreed principles for the regulation of firearms in Australia between the Commonwealth and each of the states and territories providing some of the most stringent firearms regulations in the world.