The Opposition has written to Police Commissioner Ian Stewart to ask whether Queensland Police Minster Bill Byrne broke the law by¬†firing his .22 calibre rifle at rats in the roof cavity of his Rockhampton home more than 20 years ago.
In response, according to an article on the 9 News.com website, a Government spokesman has said Mr Byrne didn’t do anything illegal because laws restricting the use of weapons on properties in built-up areas were only introduced in Queensland in 1996, in response to the Port Arthur massacre that claimed 35 lives.
“The parliament’s passage of the amending legislation in 1996 was after Mr Byrne undertook vermin control at his residence,” the spokesman said.
The clarification effectively ended a short-lived furore surrounding Mr Byrne’s weapons use after the ex-military man was probed by media about rumours he’d discharged a firearm in front of his wife.
Mr Byrne on Monday issued a statement refuting the rumour, saying it had surfaced during a difficult time in his marriage, but there was no truth to it.
“This has been a deeply personal smear campaign against me,” he said.
Mr Byrne admitted to going on hunting trips and occasionally using “firearms to dispose of vermin from residential properties at various times”, but insisted that stopped after the Port Arthur massacre.
“I was so disturbed by Port Arthur I disposed of my weapons immediately,” he said.
Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg called for Mr Byrne to stand down while police investigated.
He also urged Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to correct the record after a spokesman in her office on Sunday night told The Courier-Mail that Mr Byrne was allowed to fire a gun in his own home.
“What we’re seeing here is a Police Minister who is arguably engaged in illegal activity – somebody who should know the law – and a Premier who has basically indicated to Queensland false, misleading information,” Mr Springborg said.
“One would hope that it’s not deliberate, but it’s certainly ignorant and certainly clueless.”
Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath said the opposition was using the issue to distract from its own problems.
“This is just muckraking,” she said.
“We’ve seen the LNP do it before, they’re doing it again and it’s all to cover up the division within their own party.”
Mr Springborg stood by his comments later on Monday, saying there were still “many holes” in Mr Byrne’s story.
He called on the Premier to release the Police advice on which her defence of Mr Byrne was based, and criticised her for “recklessly defending the discharging of firearms in residential properties”.