Wednesday, 14 October 2020 HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY Page 2995 / 2997
The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (14:58): My question is to the Minister for Police. Given that the definition of ‘firearms’ has remained the same for many years, can the minister advise why it has taken so long for police to decide that gel blasters, which have been available to the public for some years, should be licensed? With your leave and that of the house, sir, I will explain further.
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: Recently, SA Police have announced that they consider gel blasters to be a firearm and will be requiring owners and businesses to be licensed. I have been contacted by many gel blaster small business owners, who have pointed out that they have incurred costs, made investment decisions and employed staff in good faith without any suggestion from police that they may need to be licensed. They also point out that this recent decision will force many to close their businesses and to let go many loyal staff with the loss of many jobs.
The Hon. V.A. TARZIA (Hartley—Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services) (14:59): I thank the honourable member for the question. I would invite the honourable member, if he does have people and businesses in his electorate, I make this commitment to the member that I would be more than happy to meet with them and address some of those concerns. I would like to say that obviously, yes, it is true that SAPOL—and this is an operational matter—has declared gel blasters, as the member points out, as a regulated imitation firearm. SAPOL—
The Hon. A. Koutsantonis: It took him 30 seconds to say ‘operational matter’.
The SPEAKER: The member for West Torrens can leave for 20 minutes under 137A.
The Hon. V.A. TARZIA: I would prefer if he stays to hear it, sir.
The Hon. A. Koutsantonis: That’s one way to protect you.
The SPEAKER: The member will leave in silence, and when he has left the Minister for Police will have the call.
The honourable member for West Torrens having withdrawn from the chamber:
The Hon. V.A. TARZIA: Sir, I thank you for your protection; you are doing a sterling job over there. Obviously, during this time it’s true—as the point has been made by SAPOL—that businesses and also people are encouraged to hand in their gel blasters, register them appropriately or also sell their items to a licensed firearm dealer. I can say from a police point of view, obviously there is a degree of balance that has to be taken into consideration that will allow enthusiasts and also businesses to be able to continue to use and sell gel blasters after obtaining a licence similar to what is a paintball licence and to register their gel blasters.
They obviously must either sell their gel blasters to a firearms licensee, who will be responsible for registering the item, or another option is to an interstate gel blaster firearm trader who is authorised in that state to receive a gel blaster. It might be worth noting what the regulations are in each state in regard to this issue.
In New South Wales, I have been informed that gel blasters have been determined to be an air gun and therefore a category A firearm. In addition, gel blasters that substantially duplicate in appearance a military-style firearm are classified as a prohibited firearm. In the ACT, they are actually not permitted. In Tasmania, they have been classified as an imitation firearm pursuant to the Firearms Act. In WA, they are prohibited, pursuant to section 4 of the Firearms Act.
In Victoria, they are classified as firearms for the purpose of the Firearms Act. In the Northern Territory, I couldn’t believe it, they have actually been prohibited pursuant to the Weapons Act—in the Northern Territory, sir. Queensland obviously have no restrictions, but I am sure they will get to them. From a commonwealth point of view, obviously they are certainly controlled in terms of importation of imitation firearms.
I can also advise the house—and I discussed this with the member for Elizabeth, the shadow in this area today; obviously there have been some updates, but I have been given some further updates—that as of this week several hundred gel blasters have actually been surrendered. Apart from that, there are well over a hundred applications for licences and several applications to vary a licence as well. I am also advised that two permits to acquire applications have been submitted of which one has been returned, as it was not correctly completed.
Also, to the member for Frome’s point, I know that businesses have engaged with SAPOL, the firearms unit, and I would encourage them to do so. To the member for Frome I make the commitment that I am more than happy to meet with the businesses involved. I do empathise with these businesses, honestly, and I’m sure that from a South Australian police point of view it was not an easy decision to come to.
At the end of the day, we would all agree in this place that public safety has to come first, community safety has to come first, but I make a commitment to meet the relevant constituents in the member for Frome’s electorate. As I said, it wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly, but the ultimate and paramount consideration has to be community safety.
The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (15:03): A supplementary question to the minister: I cannot understand why they have been able to be available to the public for so long without any restrictions, then all of a sudden the stuff you have purchased in that period of time is now illegal.
The SPEAKER: Well, member for Frome, that strikes me as a statement. I will give the minister the opportunity to respond. The minister is seeking the call.
The Hon. V.A. TARZIA (Hartley—Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services) (15:03): I thank the honourable member for the question. Again, I am more than happy to meet with the member for Frome or any of his constituents who are affected by these new rules. Obviously, as I said, it is an operational decision and it has been taken and made by South Australian police. I thank the opposition.
The SPEAKER: Order! The Hon. V.A. TARZIA: I thank the Labor Party, actually, because I know that the member for Elizabeth on talkback radio last week was calling for regulation, and I believe the Hon. Kyam Maher in the other place also has called for regulation. Obviously, regulation was the right step to take.
As I said, this is a decision that has had to be taken on balance having regard to commercial interests but also, most importantly, having regard to community safety. We would all agree that community safety has to come first. We also know that a number of people have had these gel items, projectiles, fired at them as well. I was not going to stand here as minister and allow that to keep happening without any kind of regulation. It was only a matter of time, in my humble opinion. I want to thank South Australia Police for the good work they do.
Heaven forbid if someone went into a cafe or a service station; as late as even last week, they could have walked in with one of these objects. They do imitate firearms. We could have had an absolute tragedy and an absolute travesty if unfortunately police in the line of duty had to respond. We could have had fatal consequences. I certainly was not going to allow that to happen, and I am very grateful to the police for continuing to monitor this in a safe way. Obviously, advice has also differed over time, member for Frome. What may have been said a long time ago is different from recent times, and of course these objects and these items have evolved over time.
As was pointed out in a press conference during the week, some of these objects are quite similar to the real thing. Very few people, even firearm experts in fact, may be able to differentiate between a gel blaster and some of these semiautomatic weapons. The fact is it is a decision that I know has not been taken lightly, member for Frome. I do make the commitment to work with your constituents and work with your businesses but, as I said, it was certainly not a decision that was taken lightly.
As for this whole notion that no-one was given any notice, it is a difficult decision but, as I have pointed out, in many jurisdictions around Australia these are actually banned. We did not want to go down that path. We did not want to ban them because I promise you if we did ban them that certainly would have had the capability to destroy the industry. We have said that they need to be regulated. They are being regulated. Let’s get on board, let’s move on and let’s work with South Australia Police to ensure that they can talk to those businesses to ensure viability moving forward.