Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (21:53): I am pleased to rise to speak to this omnibus bill on firearms, control of weapons, sex offenders registration and Victoria Police. I support much of this legislation. I certainly support responsible gun ownership, and I think that many parts of this bill go towards that and go to rectifying issues that possibly could have been rectified some time ago. But I cannot support the further bedding down, the further trampling down, in relation to firearms prohibition orders. As we said back in 2018, these completely trample on fundamental human rights. Once a firearm prohibition order has been made it allows police officers without warrant or consent to enter and search the premises of the person subject to the firearms prohibition order. It also allows them to search other persons present. This could be in a car. Someone could be in a car with someone with a firearms prohibition order and the police could stop that car and search not the person with the firearms prohibition order but the passenger in that car, including children.
It allows police to search people without warrant, even without suspicion. They do not even have to have suspicion for them to do this. They do not have to have reasonable suspicion that a person has committed an offence. The person subject to an FPO does not have to have ever even acquired, possessed, carried, used or owned a firearm. Firearms prohibition orders can be made because of the behaviour of a person—that behaviour is undefined in the act—or because of the people that person associates with. Firearms prohibition orders can even be made to children as young as 14.
It basically dispenses with all of the normal processes involved in the issuing of warrants, and that is why we argued back in 2018 that if you were going to issue a firearms prohibition order, at least there should be some oversight by the Magistrates Court. Now, that was not allowed, and even back then, in 2018, the statement of compatibility conceded that this piece of legislation was not proportionate to the limitations of human rights under the Victorian charter. I think the interesting thing about our charter sometimes is that we talk about the wonderful charter that we have—and I do believe it is a wonderful charter, and I am a passionate proponent of the charter—but we can introduce legislation that says, ‘It actually tramples every single right that we have in the charter, but we think that that is okay’. Now, I know that I am not the only person deeply offended by this. I know that Liberty Victoria was deeply offended by this when these changes were made back in 2018.
And now it adds insult to injury. This should be an incredibly serious, serious order that really, I would say, only a court should make, but okay, we have dispensed with that; we have said that senior police officers can make this. But now this bill is amending that to say, ‘No. Junior police officers can make this; police officers, inspectors in stations can make firearms prohibition orders’. And let us just remember, if you have a firearms prohibition order issued against you, this means that even anyone with you can be searched without warrant. This means that your house can be searched without warrant. This means that if you are visiting a house, it can be searched without warrant.
Now, as someone who chaired the inquiry into firearms prohibition legislation and heard considerable evidence around this, again this legislation, in particular this section on extending the ability of who can issue firearms prohibition orders is, I would put it kindly, a solution looking for a problem. At the time that we conducted the inquiry, there was no backlog, there was no concern that people were not getting issued with firearms prohibition orders because no-one could—
Business interrupted pursuant to standing orders.
Mr LEANE: Pursuant to standing order 4.08(1)(b), I declare the sitting to be extended by up to 1 hour.
Mr Finn interjected.
Ms PATTEN: Thank you, Minister. I am surprised by the interjections that you received from Mr Finn because I thought he was listening to every word that I was speaking.
Mr Finn: I am.
Ms PATTEN: Thank you, Mr Finn, because in many ways I am actually supporting some of the amendments that your party—
Mr Finn interjected.
Ms PATTEN: This is actually incredibly serious, when we start seeing this type of legislation that we know completely breaches our charter of human rights and completely tramples on it, and yet we are not only saying that it tramples on it, but that we should allow far more people to exercise this right.
Again, I cannot even fathom where this is coming from. Certainly when we looked at this—it is COVID times, so 2019 might seem like a decade ago—it was only in November 2019, less than two years ago. What we see here in this bill is not what the committee recommended. Sure, there are parts—no, this is not what the committee recommended. In fact we were concerned by the level of discretion that this legislation allowed. We were incredibly concerned at the ability for these orders to be issued, and we thought that it could lead to inconsistent practices and confusion. In fact we were pretty firm about this. We noted that the VCAT case that actually led to the inquiry—you know, in some ways this showed the trampling and the overarching heaviness of this legislation. The reason that VCAT heard the case and in actual fact overturned those firearm prohibition orders—and I note that obviously that order was changed—was because they thought it overrode. They thought that it was beyond what was acceptable; that yes, certainly someone with a firearm prohibition order should be contained by certain orders, but not be prohibited from dropping his children off at his mother-in-law’s house because his father-in-law had a firearms licence. That was an overstep.
This bill just treads down on that overstep. That is what this bill does. To now say that in actual fact it does not need to be senior officers and now it just needs to be an inspector that can do this, I cannot even begin to understand why we are even doing this. I look at the recommendations that our inquiry made, and I think that many of them were actually quite reasonable: that the Chief Commissioner of Police could possibly amend a firearm prohibition order, and with small things like the circumstance I mentioned earlier, that you might be able to say to someone who had an FPO that they could drop their children off with their grandparents even though one of the grandparents had a licence for a firearm. But that is not where they went. They ignored the findings of the report, and they ignored the recommendations of the report, with the exception of recommendation 3, where we suggested that they amend the legislation to include a requirement that a person subject to a firearm prohibition order must provide notification of change of address.
Well, I am pleased that they do that. I note in Mr Quilty’s contribution that they must do that within a week.
Mr Quilty: A day.
Ms PATTEN: Sorry, a day. And those under sex offender register orders have a week to do that. Look, I am really troubled by this part of the legislation. I do not think we should dispense with fundamental human rights to relieve a bit of workload pressure. In 2019 the police did not report workload pressure. They did not report this. They did not report that this was the difficulty with the legislation. Now we are hearing that they would like to issue far more. Remember that this legislation, because it tramples on so many human rights, is meant for the most serious of serious of serious criminals. So why are we expanding this? Why are we making this easier? Again, as I say, if we have a charter of human rights, we should adhere to it, and this legislation does not do that.
Now, I can support many aspects of this bill. There are many areas where I think it is sensible. There are many areas where I think it is just promoting responsible gun ownership or it is changing other parts of legislation, like the sex offender register scheme, that are purely sensible, but this part worries me. While I will support most parts of the bill, I cannot support the clauses on the firearm prohibition orders.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan
Second reading speech 12/10/21