The ACT Government has brushed aside the opposition’s attempts to introduce new anti-consorting legislation and have instead proposed tougher gun laws to battle organised crime and bikie gangs in the territory.
The Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, which was introduced to the Legislative Assembly on Thursday (16 May) by Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay, will tighten firearm laws and help police confiscate proceeds of organised crime in the ACT.
Mr Ramsay said the proposed changes to the Firearms Act 1996 will help police and prosecutors hold those who illegally possess firearms accountable, stating it was an important part of Government’s “comprehensive strategy to combat organised crime”.
Though current ACT firearm laws make it an offence for a person to use or possess a firearm without authorisation by an ACT licence or permit, prosecution must prove the defendant does not hold a licence or permit anywhere else in the country.
The prosecution is required to seek evidence from every other jurisdiction, and lead this at trial.
Even with this information, Mr Ramsay said it is complex to get it admitted, due to the fact that all the information is second-hand and not covered by evidentiary certificates under the Firearms Act 1996.
Mr Ramsay said the ACT’s gun laws needed to be reformed to stop people from using technical arguments to delay or prevent prosecution when they are caught with illegal firearms.
“This is a straightforward and reasonable change to prevent firearms crime from being unaddressed due to legal technicalities, ensuring the proper operation of the justice system and effective community protection,” Mr Ramsay said on Thursday afternoon.
“Robust laws against the possession or use of illegal firearms are an important part of keeping Canberra safe, particularly from organised crime.”
The bill reforms also support new arrangements between the Commonwealth and States and Territories to fight organised crime by depriving criminals of the proceeds of crime. Mr Ramsay said both reforms will make criminals think twice before expanding their operations in the territory.
“Our intent is clear – we will go after and take away what organised crime groups need to operate in the ACT,” Mr Ramsay said.
“All these changes to existing legislation will strengthen public safety in our community and help police and prosecutors to bring organised crime groups to justice.”
ACT Minister for Police and Emergency Services Mick Gentleman welcomed the new laws.
“Canberra is a safe city but it does not mean we are immune from crime. Over the last few years, we have provided additional funding and resources to ACT Policing to specifically target organised crime groups and these new laws will further strengthen this effort,” Mr Gentleman said.
“The ACT has an effective police taskforce and solid intelligence that means there is nowhere for members of organised crime groups to hide.”
Opposition spokesman Jeremy Hanson, who has introduced anti-consorting legislation to the Assembly on several occasions, said the lack of anti-consorting laws in the ACT was still an issue for the Canberra Liberals.
“Without anti-consorting laws, the measures proposed by the Government may be of some use, but is like putting extra locks on the front door while leaving the back door wide open,” Mr Hanson said.