Gun control:
A view from the country

(speech given in the House of Representatives)

Graeme Campbell
Independent Federal Member for Kalgoorlie

Mr CAMPBELL (Kalgoorlie): In the generous 10 minutes granted to me on the Medicare Levy Amendment Bill I want to put a counter case. I remind this House that it was not so long ago that France resumed nuclear testing. And what happened on that occasion? The Liberal Party tried to out-hate the Labor Party. That set off across Australia an absolute symphony of hate towards the French. Arising out of this, French property was destroyed, people were attacked and businesses were sent broke, simply because they were called French something or other.

It was a time in Australia when I was not proud to be an Australian because every politician and every journalist in this country knew there was not one thread of a threat to Australia emanating from those tests. When the question was put they said it was not a threat; it was simply that France could not do what it liked in our part of the world. Of course, Mururoa has been French longer than Australia has been ours. If you reduce France's sovereign rights you reduce your own rights by the same amount. I am against the reduction of our sovereign rights.

The Prime Minister (Mr Howard), having done this sordid little trick to capture, as he thought, the environmental vote, when the opportunity arose again little Johnny jumped up again. This time it was to prepare the ground for the double dissolution which he intended to have this year. The gullible Labor Party followed down that track. They must have realised that they would have been decimated in even more seats if that had been allowed to occur. That will not occur now, but it is certainly not as a result of any ability on the part of the Labor Party.

I have been sitting here tonight and listening to the trotting out of a lot of meaningless statistics. The facts are simple. Since 1915 when records were first kept, gun related violence has been trending down in Australia, unlike the United States where it is trending up at about three times the Australian rate. It is true that in some parts of the United States it is low. Where it is high it is always associated with socioethnic violence and crime. That is the main cause of it.

In 1994, the last year that statistics were kept, 400 men committed suicide, 21 using guns. We should be addressing the cause of those suicides. That is not suggested anywhere. If they cannot use guns they will obviously use something else, as they do elsewhere. Sweden, Switzerland and Japan all have much higher suicide rates than Australia and they do not use guns. If people want to do away with themselves they will.

The reasons for those suicides were simple. Economic pressure in the rural sector was a big cause. There were the failings of the Family Law Court and the inequities of the child support laws. These will not be investigated because this requires real courage on the part of a government - something that I see neither on the other side nor on this side.

They are just the simple facts of the situation. In the same year, 400 men died of suicide and, I think it was, 58 men and 26 women died from armed assaults. This shows that suicide is by far the biggest factor and is not being tackled, nor will it be tackled. Just consider the actions of little Johnny Howard with the Prime Minister of Great Britain, John Major - a man in desperate need of an issue. What John Howard -

Mr SPEAKER: I remind the member for Kalgoorlie to address the Prime Minister by his proper title.

Mr CAMPBELL: As a compromise I will call him 'Prime Minister'. What the Prime Minister did John Major would love to have done, I am sure. But he acted responsibly. He put the whole thing out to a detailed study. The results will come back and those results will receive discussion out of which they will get a consensus. That will not happen in Australia. I say to this House that laws you cannot enforce are silly laws. They are bad laws. Laws that turn decent people into criminals are evil laws. And that is exactly what will happen here. These laws will not be enforceable unless there are draconian penalties, including gaol, or unless there are cash bonuses to dob in your neighbour. That is the sort of society that this sort of legislation is going to develop.

And all for what? It will have no effect on the Port Arthurs at all. Everyone knows that. What this parliament is doing will have no effect in those circumstances. Good heavens! Bryant in Tasmania could not get a gun even under Tasmania's relaxed laws. It is ironic that it is strongly suggested that the gun that he eventually got, obviously legally acquired by his parents - Bryant murdered to get it - was a gun handed in in Victoria in 1987 and the police have since admitted that many other guns handed in in Victoria have been put back on the market. Registries do not work. That is absolutely clear. What governments should be doing is compiling lists of people who should not have guns. Let us look at the records of government. Every government in every state of Australia has cut spending on mental health. People who were institutionalised are out on the street. In Victoria they have a somewhat unique solution: the police shoot them.

Dr Nelson: They are not the people who commit these crimes.

Mr CAMPBELL: Now I hear this glib nonsense. They say, 'Oh, only 13 per cent of people had psychiatric problems.' I say only 13 per cent were diagnosed. Obviously you have some psychiatric problem to behave like this. But nothing that is happening here will affect that. Everyone knows that is the case.

If we look at the facts, we see that this legislation is going to further divide rural and urban Australia. The great problem facing Australia is that this divide is increasing in dimension. It is increasing at a rate because the National Party is, of course, a city based organisation. It is now, I guess, the mange on the coat of the Liberal Party. They are going to suffer for their betrayal of country people.

Let us make no mistake - the National Party was finished before this gun action. The legislation that went through this parliament last week in respect of the wool industry will come back to bite the National Party in the next few weeks because they betrayed their constituency. The same cannot be said of the Labor Party because they no longer have a country constituency. They blew it in the last election. I say to this House: you will rue this day. You will regret the passage of this bill.

There were lots of things that Howard could have done. Had he negotiated he could have got the Western Australian legislation forced across Australia. The Western Australian legislation, I think, was good legislation and it would have been all that was necessary. The Prime Minister, advised by his Sydney advisers, rushed this action. There was no consultation with gun owners. Had he sought the support of gun owners he could have recalled all the military type rifles. Instead, we see this attack on rim-fire rifles and shotguns. Shooting is a working class sport in this country, unlike in other countries, and those are the people who of course will be penalised.

The Prime Minister went down to talk to the gun rally complete with armoured vest. People say, 'What does this say about Australia?' It says nothing. It says a lot about what John Howard thinks about Australia. The truth is that that rally was probably the safest place he could have been. Anyone producing a gun at that rally would have been eaten alive. But he wore his vest prominently enough so that the press could pick it up and he could make some other statement about what he thinks about the state of Australia. It is a scandal.

The Prime Minister spoke glibly about his preparedness to meet the electoral consequences, knowing full well that the present government and a future Labor government could survive on the votes of Melbourne and Sydney - towns that intrinsically produce nothing, no wealth. I say to this House that every city in Australia exists because of the wealth of the hinterland. But the hinterland is being continually downgraded; its infrastructure is wearing out and not being replaced.

We are getting this city view of the world. I had a woman say to me, 'As a compromise, couldn't farmers leave their guns at the police station and go and get them when they needed them?' It gives you an idea of the lack of knowledge that we now have in this country.

One hundred years ago this was the most urban country in the world. Today it is even more so. The difference is that 40 or 50 years ago people in the cities understood the country. That understanding has gone and been replaced by massive ignorance. The city is still understood by the country because the country has to go there; but the city suffers massive ignorance of the country - a situation that is becoming increasingly apparent.

I say to this House: this nation will not survive as a nation divided against itself on the basis of city-country. It is quite clear that that is the line that John Howard is taking because of the advice he has had from his Sydney advisers, most of whom have probably never been to the other side of the Blue Mountains.

Mr Speaker, I had a structured speech to give on this. I was thwarted. Out of the generosity of the hearts of a bipartisan parliament, I was allowed 10 minutes. As that 10 minutes is up, all I can say to you, Mr Speaker, is that I have finished with much left unsaid.

Hansards for the House of Representatives, Monday, 17 June 1996 (10.33 p.m.), p.2033-2035.

Articles by Graeme Campbell