Clever strategy the key to beating gun runners

The Daily Telegraph 17/04/12

I know how serious crime is in western Sydney. I live here. I was born and raised in Cabramatta. I saw what it did to my hometown. I still remember being offered heroin every night I got off the train after uni.

I also know how serious drive by shootings are. This is not just about criminals shooting at other criminals. There is a real risk that someone spraying bullets at a house could kill an innocent person.

One illegal gun on our streets is one too many. The NSW Police Force, led by Commissioner Scipione, is doing a great job. In the last few weeks they have seized a lot of firearms and arrested a lot of people. Last week they also busted an alleged gun runner trying to construct rifles from imported parts.

The bad news is there are tens of thousands of illegal firearms still out there – more than ten thousand illegal hand guns alone. And they don't have a used by date. Many of them are 10, 20 or 30 years old.

Last year police seized two guns off criminal gangs that were more than 100 years old – and still working.

The local black market is made up of firearms criminals get from crooked dealers, firearms that weren't surrendered or registered after the Port Arthur massacre, firearms that are made or reactivated by backyard operators, illegal imports and thousands of firearms stolen from legitimate owners.

Last week the Daily Telegraph reported that about 7000 firearms have been stolen in NSW alone in the last 12 years and not recovered. That's staggering.

The good news is there is a way to tackle this. I have been in this job now for four months. I have asked State and Federal law enforcers for their advice. They all say the same thing – intelligence is the key. The more intel they have, the more criminals they catch and the more drugs and guns they seize – whether it's on the streets or at the border.

The Sylvania Waters bust a few weeks ago is a good example. NSW Police asked the Australian Crime Commission to trace a firearm they had seized. That trace analysis of one gun led them to a gun manufacturer in Austria, a gun dealer in Germany and the dismantling of an alleged gun racket here in Australia.

That's the power of intelligence - the power of tracing one gun. I have asked the Australian Crime Commission to do the same tracing analysis they did here on guns seized across the country in the last 12 months.

It is part of a national intelligence assessment of the illegal firearms market I have asked the Australian Crime Commission to conduct. They presented their preliminary results to a meeting of the States and Territories last week.

It's identified a number of areas where more work is needed. One of the most important is improving the way law enforcement agencies share the intelligence they collect. We do a good job at the moment but we can do better. At the moment firearm information is held in 15 different systems. Most of them aren't linked.

NSW Police Minister Mike Gallacher has asked for the next meeting of State and Territory Police Ministers to be brought forward to take action based on the results of the Australian Crime Commission's work and I have agreed.

I have also asked the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission and Customs what immediate action the Federal Government should take.

We x-ray more than 20 million parcels every year and more than 100,000 shipping containers. But x-rays on their own are not enough. It is not easy to find a gun part in a box full of metal machinery parts.

Again intelligence and information sharing is the key. You need good intelligence to target the right parcels and containers. 96 per cent of drug seizures and 85 per cent of gun and gun part seizures come from intelligence from law enforcement agencies before the parcel or container even arrives in Australia.

That's why Customs have recommended the establishment of a Firearms Intelligence and Targeting Team to fuse together all available intelligence from law enforcement agencies and target key criminal groups.

The team started work yesterday. To work it needs the support of State and Territory police and I'm confident that we will get it.

This is the same model that Customs use for counter terrorism, counter proliferation and illegal drug importation. We know this model work because it has already led to drug arrests. Last year it led to the seizure of 271 kilos of cocaine – the sixth largest drug haul in Australia's history.

It works because it fuses together all the intelligence law enforcement has to target the right criminals. This leads to more seizures and more arrests.

We have got a big challenge. There are a lot of illegal firearms out there - tens of thousands. To tackle this we need intelligence and team work. Federal and State law enforcement agencies, and Labor and Liberal Governments, all working together.

That's what western Sydney expects – and deserves. It's what made Cabramatta safer. And it's what law enforcers and politicians right across the country must deliver.