Second reading: Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Bill
Mr Speaker, it is Day 25 of the largest criminal investigation in New Zealand history.
Not a day, or a moment, has been wasted as we respond to the atrocity that is testing us all.
That is true also of the Select Committee.
I particularly acknowledge the members of the Committee who met under great time pressure to help speed this legislation through Parliament.
I thank the chair Michael Wood and I thank the other MPs who have all played their part.
I thank the 13 thousand or so who made submissions, and the tens of thousands of others who participated in this process by signing online petitions.
I thank the expert Police advisors and officials.
I thank the teams of public servants and policy analysts from multiple government agencies who assisted.
At least ninety extra people were drafted in to work late at night and through the weekend to consider, analyse and report on the submissions.
But perhaps the biggest debt of all is owed to the families and friends of those who fell at the mosques.
They came to Parliament to speak for those who could not.
Their bravery and dignity, their grief and their despair carry meaning that no paper submission or petition can convey.
Their eloquence and compelling truths gave weight to the memory of those we have lost.
There is one more submission I wish to single out, and in doing so I mean no disrespect to the others.
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons took us to a very confronting place.
The family and friends of those who died gave us their memories.
The surgeons gave us the bodily presence of those who survived.
Mr Speaker, specialist James McKay saw 48 terribly injured men, women and children arrive in less than an hour in the Canterbury Hospital Emergency Department.
At the Select Committee, his description of the injuries to their chests, lungs and abdomens, their skin and tissue and bone was, quite simply, horrifying.
Four hundred years ago The Merchant of Venice also confronted the effects of religious and cultural intolerance, for another group.
If I could paraphrase for a moment Mr Speaker.
Do we not have the same hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions;
fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
Mr Speaker, we are hurt with weapons.
Unlike that speech, we are not seeking revenge.
We are seeking safety.
We have to stop this happening again.
There is an A to W list of government agencies wrapping around the survivors and the bereaved, from ACC to Work and Income.
We have a responsibility too, here in this Chamber.
This Parliament is acting, near-unanimously, to take these firearms and associated parts out of circulation.
They cause deadly harm. They are designed to kill quickly and at scale.
There is no good reason to have them outside extremely tightly defined circumstances.
Exemptions – wild animal and pest control
Mr Speaker firearms are an important tool to help prevent damage to the environment.
There is an exemption in the bill for legitimate users to have access to prohibited firearms – semi automatics - for the sole purpose of pest eradication.
These commercial operators will need to demonstrate a genuine need for the firearm and that they cannot do the job with another type of weapon.
Rural Women NZ made a strong case that there is no need for assault rifles and military style semi-automatics on farms.
The Committee heard a range of views about the place of semi-automatics on farms and large landholdings.
Members of the committee believed that the exemption for commercial wild animal control or animal pest control businesses should be kept narrow.
The exemption does allow commercial businesses specialising in pest control to use a prohibited item for such purposes on private land or non-conservation land.
This will allow private land owners to engage a legitimate pest control business to assist in protecting our environment.
I am aware that there are some in the community who believe this does not go far enough.
The fact is Mr Speaker we must ensure that we do not create gaping loopholes that can be exploited. The right balance must be struck and I believe this provision does just that.
Mr Speaker the select committee has made a number of recommendations which I believe should be included in the Bill.
Earlier I spoke of the need to ensure that we get the balance right between protecting our communities and allowing the tools to effectively protect our environment.
The select committee has given extensive consideration to the conditions placed upon a bona fide collectors.
Currently collectors must remove a key component of a firearm, rendering it inoperable.
The committee has recommended that the bill is amended to prescribe further precautions that must be taken to prevent the theft or misuse of these vital parts.
The committee has also recommended the ability for people to apply for an endorsement on their licence to keep a prohibited firearm if that item is an heirloom or memento.
This will hopefully reduce the risk of people continuing to unlawfully possess a prohibited firearm.
The Committee has agreed with the Government that there is no need for an exemption for sporting competitors or competitions.
No-one competing in shooting disciplines at the Olympic or Commonwealth Games will be affected by this Bill.
In addition, people who compete in the 3-gun discipline will continue to be able to compete using a .22 or lower calibre semi-automatic.
This Bill strikes the right balance.
Mr Speaker, before concluding I want to briefly touch on the process.
In addition to the 13,000 submissions referred to in the Committee’s report, there were petitions signed by thousands of others.
For comparison, the comprehensive Thorp Inquiry more than twenty years ago considered just under three-thousand submissions.
Simon Mount QC, who was special counsel advising the Thorp Inquiry in 1997, has supported this process.
He made a submission stating:
“There are exceptional circumstances that require swift action, and this is one.
The arguments for immediate action seem compelling…the Committee will be well aware of the main arguments for and against.”
Mr Speaker, the survivors and the bereaved have a lifetime of physical and emotional trauma ahead.
For them, day 25 will blur into day 26 and day 27 and every day will be a struggle.
We have the responsibility to make every moment count.
That is why Mr Speaker, I commend this Bill to the house.