At 4.30pm yesterday afternoon, 25th February, Robert Borsak MLC delivered a blistering condemnation of the NSW Firearm’s Registry’s disregard and heavy-handed treatment of innocent law abiding firearm owners (LAFO), issuing destruction orders on their firearms despite having been proven innocent of any lawbreaking. Here is the body of Borsak’s Adjournment speech delivered yesterday. This is the sort of thing that happens when public servants get the whole master-servant power relationship (remember we pay their wages) seriously wrong.
Today I wish to talk about the erosion of basic legal rights in New South Wales that has persisted, and indeed, flourished under the current Liberal Government.
On February 4, the New South Wales Chief Justice, the Honourable Tom Bathurst, gave an address to the Law Society of New South Wales marking the opening of the law term.
In his address, the Chief Justice spoke at length about the extent of legislative encroachments on three of the fundamental common law rights in New South Wales: the presumption of innocence; the right to legal professional privilege; and the right against self-incrimination.
Today, I will focus on one of these ‚Äì the presumption of innocence.
Nowhere is the presumption of innocence extinguished more emphatically and decisively in the New South Wales than by the Firearms Act 1996.
Section 22(1A) of the Act deals with suspension of licences.
It allows the Commissioner, or more correctly, the Commissioner‚Äôs delegate, who under this Act is often an un-sworn civilian, to revoke a firearms licence by serving notice on the licensee.
The notice suspending the licence is not required to state the reasons for the suspension.
Section 24(2)(b)(ii) of the Act deals with revocation of licences.
It says a licence may be revoked if the licensee contravenes any provision of the Act or Regulations whether or not the licensee has been convicted of an offence for the contravention.
Putting this into context, my office recently received details from one firearm owner who in August 2014, was charged by New South Wales Police with a Commonwealth offence.
The firearm owner pleaded not guilty and in November 2014 the charge was dismissed and withdrawn in the local court.
In April 2015, the firearm owner was then charged by New South Wales Police with State charges using an identical fact sheet as used for the Commonwealth charges. The NSW Firearms Registry revoked his licence and he duly surrendered firearms.
Incredibly, in the notice of revocation from the Firearms Registry, the manager of the licensing, permits and authorities section wrote, and I quote:
‚ÄúWhilst I note that the allegations are still before the Court I am satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that the offences occurred‚Äù end quote.
What an arrogant and outrageous statement from the Firearms Registry.
This is precisely the sort of erosion of basic legal rights referred to by the Chief Justice.
Then, in June 2015, the same firearm owner requested an internal review of the decision by the Firearms Registry to revoke his firearms licence, but not surprisingly, the internal reviewer re-affirmed the Firearms Registry‚Äôs decision to revoke his licence.
No surprises there.
In September 2015, the firearms owner then lodged an appeal with the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In early December 2015, the firearms owner received a phone call from local police advising that they had received a job order from the Firearms Registry for disposal of his firearms.
This was despite the fact that this matter was still before the Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Then, in late December 2015, the State charges against the firearm owner were dismissed and withdrawn.
Now, any fair-minded individual would rightly think that this would be the end of the matter and his licence would be re-instated and firearms returned.
But NO, remember this is the New South Wales Police Firearms Registry I am talking about.
The next day, the firearms owner called the case manager at Firearms Registry to advise that the state charges against him had been dismissed-withdrawn and that his appeal was still before NCAT.
The case manager told him that the Registry was going ahead with the disposal of his firearms and that the court‚Äôs dismissal of the charges against him would make no difference to their decision to revoke his licence.
This is just one example of the litany of cases I have received from firearm owners about the abuse of powers and malicious and vexatious actions by the NSW Firearms Registry.
Is it any wonder that firearm owners and farmers in this state are absolutely fed up with the Firearms Registry‚Äôs unfettered and systematic abuse of power?
As Chief Justice Tom Bathurst said in his address to the Law Society of New South Wales, what may seem like subtle shifts in insignificant acts can have dramatic consequences for individuals and their families.
Readers can see the speech recorded in Parliament house here.