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Wieambilla victims’ legacy is a National Firearms Register

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP
Media Release

One year ago on Tuesday, the murders of Queensland Police Constables Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold and the brave neighbour who came to their aid, Alan Dare, in Wieambilla shocked and saddened the nation.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called for Australia to adopt a critical measure to improve gun safety for police and communities – a National Firearms Register.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese responded to the Queensland Premier’s call and led a meeting where all state and territory leaders united in support of this historic reform.

Last week, full agreement on the National Firearms Register was reached.

In the wake of the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, all Australians vowed never again.

We resolved that we would never again tolerate the easy access to firearms, and especially high-powered military-style weapons, that made possible the mass slaughter of innocent people.

Under the leadership of John Howard and Kim Beazley, parliaments across the nation united, agreeing to the historic National Firearms Agreement, and ushering in some of the strongest gun laws in the world.

All of us are proud of that moment, and the undeniable fact that those laws have saved hundreds of lives.

Our homicide rate is now close to the lowest it’s been in a century and deaths from firearms have plummeted. But as good as those laws were, they were never completed.

We outlawed many types of weapons and severely restricted access to those still legal, but the lack of accurate information about precisely which weapons are held in the community across Australia and by whom remains a significant gap.

Since Port Arthur, many governments have supported the concept of a National Firearms Register, but no agreement had ever been reached on how to make it work. That is until Wieambilla.

There is something particularly sombre about such a terrible event being the catalyst for such significant change.

Constable McCrow and Constable Arnold were two young, committed and enthusiastic police officers with their entire policing careers ahead of them.

Attending their memorial service along with the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and the Queensland Premier was heartbreaking.

Surrounded by a sea of blue, it was clear that these were two loved and respected officers who had joined the Queensland Police Service because they were committed to keeping the Queensland community safe.

Our law enforcement agencies dedicate their lives to community wellbeing.

And in the wake of Wieambilla, the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers committed to doing more to keep them safe.

A National Firearms Register will ensure police across all Australian jurisdictions have timely and accurate information to assess any firearms risk posed, to protect themselves and the community from harm.

It will address significant gaps and inconsistencies with the way firearms are managed across states and territories, allowing the near real-time information about firearms ownership to be shared across the country.

Establishment of the register will enable the connection of firearms information with key risk information for police to act upon.

This will include police intelligence, criminal records and other relevant government and court information.

I will continue to work with my state and territory counterparts and department to get this done.

I thank gun safety advocates, law enforcement and unions for their tireless work helping all jurisdictions reach this landmark agreement.

I echo Queensland Police Union president Ian Levers’ hope that the register “will be a legacy that will continue to keep people safe long after we have all retired”.

Too often in this country news reports focus on the things that divide us, not those so many more areas that unite us.

I congratulate the Prime Minister, premiers, chief ministers, state and territory police ministers, law enforcement agencies and gun safety advocates who worked tirelessly to make this landmark reform happen.

In doing so, we have sent a clear united message: Every Australian government is committed to doing everything we can to keep our police forces and communities safe from gun violence.

The murders of Constable Matthew Arnold, Constable Rachel McCrow and the courageous Alan Dare were one of the most shocking, calculated and violent attacks on Australian police officers in living memory.

We must never accept that police attending a property or a neighbour coming to offer help will be met with such violence, such brutality.

And we must do everything possible to ensure that when police have to walk up a driveway, or knock on a door, they know what weapons may be held by those waiting inside.

On Tuesday we honour the bravery, and sacrifice of all who the men and women who risk their lives every day to protect their communities, and commit to doing all we can to prevent more touchstones being added to the 826 on the National Police Memorial.

This opinion piece was originally published in the Courier Mail.