We need balance when talking about firearms

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen yet another scare campaign by the Greens on firearms ownership, trying to stir-up emotions and get more runs in the media.

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 This sort of fear-mongering is part and parcel of what we’ve seen on the firearms debate this country over the past 20 years. Unfortunately, the Greens never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Let’s start with some base facts, starting with noted ANU Criminologist Dr Jason Payne, on ABC Radio Canberra recently:

“To know … that registered firearm usage has increased I don’t think should alarm people around the potential use of those firearms in the illegal context, because we don’t know from any research that there’s any relationship between those two,” he said.”

“[Suggesting] … that somehow an increase in the use of firearms for recreational purposes would somehow translate into an increase in the rate in which firearms are used illegally is, I think, a bit of a stretch in this case.” 

In 1996, John Howard’s firearms restrictions came as a swift political and public relations response to a tragedy in Port Arthur. He admitted that he had to be seen to be doing something, so that’s why we saw increased restrictions on law-abiding firearms owners. Let’s not also forget that all of the people affected by these laws were farmers, hunters and sporting shooters – all with legitimate reasons for using firearms in their day to day lives. Our argument at the time was that this wouldn’t have any impact on the firearm homicide rate, and 20 years later the statistics bear out that prediction. A recent systematic review study published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behaviour by Dr Samara McPhedran of Griffith University has proved our point. Dr McPhedran’s research shows that “no study found statistical evidence of any significant impact of the legislative changes on firearm homicide rates” in Australia. None. The real problem we face in New South Wales, and indeed Australia-wide, rests with illegal firearms. NSW Justice and Police Minister, Troy Grant, said on November 5 last year that:

“Greater that 97% of firearm incidents reported in New South Wales relate to unregistered, unbranded, unlicensed firearms. The opportunists out there like David Shoe bridge from The Greens will exaggerate the narrative … to make a story that is simply not true.

” … Victims of gun crime … are victims of illegal guns and unregistered guns – not the ones you buy at firearms dealers.” 

I feel like I’m repeating these facts over and over again until I’m blue in the face, but the reality is that the truth isn’t as sensational as the Greens hyperbole when it comes to firearm ownership. The figures presented by David Shoebridge in his ‘Too Many Guns’ campaign are both misleading and irresponsible. They are misleading because the high concentrations of firearms he reports correlate with the locations of registered firearm dealers, and irresponsible because it’s providing a shopping-list of suburbs for criminals to target. It also doesn’t account for historical firearms collectors. These firearms held by collectors are only exempt from current restrictions if they’re considered “obsolete”, and this usually covers firearms with percussion mechanisms or pre-percussion mechanisms. If they aren’t considered to be “obsolete”, by virtue of their make and model, they’ll be largely treated the same as other firearms, regardless of whether actually firing it would irreparably damage an important historical artefact. Firearms owners are already subject to a number of security measures, such as safe storage in safes that must have separate keys and locks for firearms and ammunition, and rolling checks by local Police. I’m surprised, however, that the NSW Firearms Registry was so thoughtless to provide this data on individual firearms ownership by postcode. Mr Shoebridge also suggests -to improve the appeal of his story- that firearms owners should need to present a legitimate reason why they need to acquire a firearm when they have greater than five. He conveniently ignores the fact that current regulations require that a genuine reason must be presented for each firearm a person acquires. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers will continue to educate the public on the facts surrounding firearms ownership. Our cause grows ever-difficult, however, when somebody else in search of a quick headline decides to point the finger at law-abiding firearms owners. Illegal firearms proliferation and use must be our collective focus if we are to truly solve the issue of gun crime in Australia. Whether they are farmers, hunters, or target shooters, law-abiding firearms owners deserve not to be constantly branded as criminals-in-waiting. That just lets the real criminals win. Robert Brown is a member of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and a Member of the NSW Legislative Council.   

The business of Greece and Macedonia

After a quarter of a century of surfing the fierce debate between Macedonian and Greek Australians, it’s a big surprise on arriving in Macedonia to see how interwoven the economies of the two feuding countries are.

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Landlocked Macedonians love to holiday and shop in Greece. In fact, Macedonians are probably top of the charts for visitor numbers to Greece.

Likewise, Greek business has responded enthusiastically to the opportunities presented by a relatively undeveloped, low-cost neighbour, which prides itself on a prodigious work ethic.

The arguments rage but life must go on: business is business and leisure is pleasure.

But that does not mean that Greece’s trenchant opposition to the very existence of the Republic of Macedonia does not have real and troublesome consequences for the people of the region.

When the Yugoslav Federation imploded in 1991, the constituent Republic Macedonia declared its independence.

The Greek Government, having successfully waged a truly Byzantian campaign to impose on this fledgling nation the absurd name “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (they refer to the citizens of the Republic as FYROMians), wanted more.

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They have invested enormously in maintaining a veto on Macedonia’s entry to the EU and NATO over the last 20 years.

The small nation of 2 million people is struggling to modernise its multi-cultural population and create jobs for the 28 per cent of people unemployed.

They accepted more than 300,000 refugees during the Kosovo crisis – including many Romany.

It is a country where mosques populate the countryside and followers of Islam make up a third of the population.

And despite some government-lead Christian chauvinism, it is doing better than average in this part of the world in the harmony business.

I met with President Gjorge Ivanov and a number of senior politicians – they were smart, well-educated and working hard to modernise their economy.

But when the opportunities and options are limited, ethnic and religious tensions can take new life.

There is evidence that there were negotiations between the then-Greek Government and Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic to suppress the opportunities for Macedonians to fuel division in the country.

The country would then collapse and the plotters could divide the spoil.

Now it is true that Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza Government is not fixated on this issue- they are firmly rooted in the 21st century, and they have bigger fish to fry.

One Greek Minister, who actually used the word Macedonia, rather than FYROM, was trolled unmercifully by right-wing forces.

But it is also true that the Tsipras Government is understandably not prepared to expend precious political capital by overtly removing the restriction.

The Greek case against the concept of a Macedonian identity is ludicrous – although the Greeks clearly have a claim on Alexander the Great.

Both nations obsess about their links with Alexander the Great – or Alexander the Accursed, as he was known by the peoples he raped and pillaged.

No doubt Alexander was a character of exceptional charisma – as most successful megalomaniacs are.

Greece has given so much to civilisation, through science, philosophy and art – it is disappointing they want to tie their nationhood to someone who made very little contribution to advancing humanity.

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Likewise the Macedonians could point to many great patriots who have risen up over the centuries against oppressive overlords, including heroic men and women partisans during the Second World War who would be better role models for the community.

Australia should do its bit for some sanity here and recognise this country as the Republic of Macedonia – as the US, UK and EU have.

It is not a case of choosing between Greek and Macedonian Australians – they are both deeply woven into the fabric of Australia. But it is in no one’s interest to have this small nation fall apart. Have we learnt nothing from Bosnia and Kosovo?

Alannah MacTiernan is the Federal Member for Perth.

What we know about the 60 Minutes case in Beirut

Brisbane mum Sally Faulkner and a Nine Network TV crew made up of reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment, are facing kidnapping and assault charges in Lebanon following a bungled abduction of Ms Faulkner’s two children in Beirut.

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What happened? 

The Australians have spent a week behind bars in Beirut after being arrested for the alleged abduction on April 7.

The TV crew was filming Faulkner’s attempt to retrieve her children Noah, four, and Lahela, six, from her ex-husband Ali Elamine, who she claims kept them in Lebanon without her permission.

A professional agency, Child Abduction Recovery International, is believed to have been hired to snatch the children. Two of its members, named in media reports as Britons Adam Whittington and Craig Michael, have also been detained and charged.

RelatedThe abduction 

Security camera footage shows masked men jumping out of a car and snatching the kids from their grandmother and another woman on a Beirut street. The grandmother claims she was attacked and hit on the head with a pistol.

The TV crew and recovery agency members were arrested shortly afterwards, while Faulkner hid with her two children in a safe house.

Authorities later found the family, arrested Faulkner and returned the children to their father.

RelatedThe charges

Faulkner is facing kidnapping charges.

The 60 minutes crew is accused of:

Hiding informationForming an association with two or more people to commit a crime against a personKidnapping or holding a minor even with their approvalPhysical assault.

The offences carry penalties of up to 20 years in jail.

RelatedLegal case so far 

Judge Rami Abdullah told the Australians during a second round of interviews on Wednesday that there was no chance their charges would be dropped.

However, he indicated that if Mr Elamine was willing to drop legal action and come to an agreement with his estranged wife, that would help the case against all of the accused.

The accused will remain in detention until facing the Baabda Palace of Justice again on Monday.

Nine has refused to comment on speculation it organised and funded the recovery operation.

Strong quake hits Myanmar, but no deaths

A strong earthquake that struck Myanmar damaged at least nine Buddhist pagodas and was felt in parts of eastern India and Bangladesh, but an official says there are no reports of serious damage or injuries.

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The magnitude 6.9 quake struck the Southeast Asian country on Wednesday evening at a depth of 135 kilometres, 396km north of Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, according to the US Geological Survey.

Residents in Myanmar’s main city of Yangon panicked after the quake struck, causing residents to rush out of their homes.

An Associated Press journalist who was in a Yangon hospital at the time of the quake said the six-storey Shwegonedine Specialist Centre shook strongly and many people, including patients, staff and visitors, ran outside.

The quake was centred in the jungle and hills 220km northwest of Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-biggest city. While the area is prone to earthquakes, it is generally sparsely populated, and most houses are low-rise structures.

In the Sagaing region just southwest of Mandalay, Sa Willy Frient, the director of the Relief and Resettlement Department, said there were no reports of serious injuries.

“There are still no death reports,” he said, adding that nine pagodas had been damaged.

“None of the pagodas collapsed, but there are cracks in some parts,” he said.

Government offices were closed on Thursday because of a three-day national holiday to mark Myanmar’s traditional new year, and there was no official announcement about the quake’s impact.

Zaw Myint Htoo, a 38-year-old resident of Mogok, 200km north of Mandalay, confirmed there was no major damage in that city either.

The tremors were felt in the eastern Indian states of West Bengal and Assam, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were visiting during their tour of India.

Prince William and his wife Kate were staying in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park on Wednesday night and were safe, according to the British High Commission in New Delhi.

“We felt the tremor very strongly, but all is fine,” said British deputy high commissioner Scott Furssedonn-Wood, who was accompanying the royal couple.

William and Kate left for neighbouring Bhutan on Thursday and were to return to India on Friday to visit the Taj Mahal.

People also reported feeling the quake in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, 484km from the epicentre.

Geelong jobs in limbo as Target moves HQ

Up to 900 jobs at Target’s Geelong headquarters are in limbo after the retailer flagged plans to close its Geelong centre and relocate to Melbourne.

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Senior management on Thursday told workers at its Geelong headquarters that the centre will be relocated to an unspecified location in Melbourne’s west.

It’s unclear how the move will affect the centre’s 900 workers or how many jobs will be cut, as employees are still waiting for more details, an Australian Services Union spokeswoman told AAP.

The union’s Victorian branch has accused Target of turning its back on Geelong.

“It is utterly reprehensible that workers at Target are the ones paying the price for the highly questionable business practices of the former management team,” Victorian secretary Ingrid Stitt said in a statement.

“This is a dark day for Geelong and the wider Geelong community.”

In his last hours as the mayor of Geelong, Darren Lyons said he was “disappointed and disheartened” by Target’s plans.

“I understand this is a business decision, but that does not make it any easier for our region,” he said in a statement.

The new head of Target, Guy Russo, says management have had to make hard decisions to make sure Target is profitable and sustainable.

“The Geelong site for the national office is no longer a viable option if we’re to remain competitive and build a profitable business,” he said in a statement.

Employees will have the option of voluntary redundancies or redeployment at other Kmart or Target sites, as well as other Wesfarmers businesses, Mr Russo said.

The state opposition says the closure of Target’s Geelong offices shows the government is not doing enough to create jobs in Victoria.

“Victoria is being smashed by New South Wales when it comes to creating new jobs,” opposition spokesman Michael O’Brien said in a statement.

McNamara tells court Rogerson killed Jamie Gao

Accused murderer Roger Rogerson pulled a gun from his right pocket and twice shot alleged drug dealer Jamie Gao, who was armed with a combat knife, as their argument over a deal escalated, a court has heard.

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Rogerson’s co-accused Glen McNamara became emotional as he took to the witness stand for the first time in the pair’s long-running Supreme Court murder trial on Thursday, with the crown wrapping its case earlier in the afternoon.

The crown case is the two men, who accuse each other of killing Mr Gao, shot the alleged drug dealer at a Padstow storage unit before stuffing his body into a surfboard bag and dumping it at sea in May, 2014.

But McNamara has squarely blamed Rogerson, telling the jury he had no idea why there was a meeting between himself, Rogerson and Mr Gao at the unit.

McNamara had driven Mr Gao there.

Mr Gao, the court heard, had let himself into McNamara’s car at a nearby McDonalds and was lying on the floor near the rear seats, clearly scared.

“Gao said ‘the triads have been chasing me all f—ing day’,” McNamara told the court.

Minutes later they were inside the storage unit and Rogerson went off at Mr Gao directly, the court heard.

According to McNamara, Rogerson said to Mr Gao: “you were supposed to come to me, you f—ing idiot.

Mr Gao responded: “It’s better to have witnesses. Where’s the f—ing money?”

“Where’s the gear?” Rogerson then asked.

“There’s no money for you f—wit.”

Mr Gao repeated his demand, Rogerson did the same and as Mr Gao offered another “f— off” he pulled a large combat knife from a bag, McNamara said.

Mr Gao was seated but had tried to stand up, which would have put him directly in front of Rogerson, the court heard.

“I saw Roger pull a gun from the right pocket of his pants,” McNamara said.

“He was seething with anger.”

At this point, McNamara stepped back and hid under a table, he said.

Rogerson then shot Mr Gao, leaving him splayed and groaning in a chair.

There was a tinkle as Mr Gao dropped his knife, but Rogerson wasn’t finished, McNamara said.

“He held aim and shot him again,” he said.

“Gao stopped moving. There was no noise. He just killed him.

“I said to him, ‘Why, why, why?'”

Rogerson sat with a grin on his face as his co-accused gave his version of events to the jury.

McNamara’s case will continue on Friday.

Manila rejects IS claim on troop deaths

The Philippines has dismissed as “purely propaganda” Islamic State’s claim that its militants killed scores of government troops in ambushes and said there was no evidence directly linking southern Muslim rebels to the group.

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The Philippines has reported 46 people killed in battles this week between troops and rebels from a group known as Abu Sayyaf on the island of Basilan. Fighting raged for a sixth day on Thursday.

SITE Intelligence, a US-based group that tracks online activity of jihadi organisations, reported IS had claimed responsibility for killing nearly 100 Philippine soldiers and had blown up seven trucks transporting them.

Philippine military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said the IS claim was propaganda and its statement had “many gaps and inconsistencies”.

“We lost only 18 soldiers but killed 28 Abu Sayyaf members since fighting began on Saturday. Our troops continued to pursue them and we will not stop until we achieve a decisive victory,” Padilla said.

Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent group known for extortion, kidnappings, beheadings and bombings, has posted videos on social media pledging allegiance to IS militants in Iraq and Syria.

The Philippine group has attracted foreign fighters from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa to the troubled south of the Philippines, home to a Muslim minority and several Muslim rebel groups in the predominantly Christian country.

But Padilla said there was still no evidence that IS had ties with the Abu Sayyaf.

“We are still looking for proof to make a link,” he said.

“There is no direct link as far as we know and based on our assessment.”

Citing an April 13 statement carried by IS’ Amaq news agency, SITE said the group reported only three of its fighters were killed and government forces suffered much heavier casualties.

“With the grace of God we were able to detonate seven trucks carrying soldiers,” Islamic State was quoted saying.

Perrett plays down Dogs’ quick turnaround

Winger Sam Perrett has played down the effects a short turnaround as Canterbury prepare to host the Warriors in an NRL “home” match in Wellington.

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The Bulldogs face the Warriors on Saturday night, having beaten the Storm 18-12 in Melbourne on Monday night.

While the impact of five-day turnarounds in the NRL have been a topic of debate, Perrett was philosophical about the Bulldogs’ schedule this week.

“It’s been tough, but we’ve got some pretty awesome staff here and they’ve made sure we’re well rested,” he said on Thursday.

“We’re just doing some light sessions now and I think we’re on track.”

The Bulldogs go into the match with a 4-2 record the season, which has them fifth on the table, but just two points behind leaders Brisbane.

They have had plenty of success at Westpac Stadium, where their five appearances there against the Warriors have produced four wins and a draw.

The 21-Test Kiwi is one of five New Zealand-born players in the Bulldogs’ 18-man squad, along with younger brother Lloyd Perrett who on an expanded five-man bench, and he expects they will have plenty of support.

“We’ve got family coming down by the busload,” said Perrett, who is originally from Auckland.

“I know I have 40-odd people coming down just from my family alone.”

What they won’t see is a match-up between Perrett and fellow Kiwis winger Manu Vatuvei, who is sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Perrett is among those disappointed Vatuvei won’t be on the field.

“I love playing against Manu – he’s a really good mate of mine,” he said.

“He’s a champion player. He always makes me pick up my game.”

Vatuvei’s replacement is David Fusitu’a, who will make his first NRL appearance of the year.

Whyalla workers want answers on Arrium

Angry workers in Whyalla want to know how Arrium’s executives allowed it to fall into financial peril, the company’s new lead administrator says.

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KordaMentha’s Mark Mentha met Arrium staff during a trip to Whyalla on Thursday amid fears for the future of the town’s steelworks and mine.

He said workers were understandably angry with Arrium’s management for allowing the company to fall into administration.

But there was cause for optimism ahead of what’s likely to be a broad restructure of the troubled steel and mining group.

“It’s a grieving process when a company goes into administration,” Mr Mentha told reporters in Whyalla.

“There’s shock. There’s the anger that culminates with ‘how did this happen, surely there’s smarter people who wouldn’t have let his happen’ and then it’s ‘hey, the sun comes up tomorrow, we’ve got to get on with life.’

“By the end of next week I’d like to think that the emotion and the anger has all died down, we get through the creditors’ meeting and we’ll get on with turning around the Arrium business.”

KordaMentha was installed as Arrium’s new administrator in place of Grant Thornton following a joint push by the company’s major lenders and the Australian Workers’ Union.

Mr Mentha said the transition from the previous administrators had been seamless and there had been strong support from all stakeholders.

The change would ensure full co-operation from the banks as KordaMentha considers ways to make Arrium operate more efficiently.

“We’re all in the one boat and we all need to support each other,” he said.

Mr Mentha said news that BHP Billiton would consider sourcing steel from Whyalla as it expands its Olympic Dam mine represented a vote of confidence in the Arrium business.

He is expected to hold talks with South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and federal industry minister Christopher Pyne in Adelaide on Friday.

US ramps up troop presence in Philippines

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter has announced that US troops and military equipment would be sent on regular rotations in the Philippines, and said the two countries had started joint patrols in the South China Sea amid increasingly assertive territorial claims by China.

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The new military initiatives, consisting of rotations of US forces and equipment, are designed so that the US does not increase its permanent footprint in its former colony, but demonstrates that the two countries are increasing security co-operation amid joint concerns over China’s actions in the region’s disputed waterways.

The first US-Philippines joint patrol in the South China Sea occurred in March and a second one happened early this month and would occur “regularly” in the future, the Pentagon said.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $US5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.

“Countries across the Asia-Pacific are voicing concern with China’s land reclamation, which stands out in size and scope, as well as its militarisation in the South China Sea,” Carter told reporters on Thursday.

“They’re voicing those concerns publicly and privately, at the highest levels, in regional meetings, and global fora.”

The Philippines has disputed China’s claims in a case it has brought before an international arbitration court.

A contingent of US military aircraft and 200 US airmen from US Pacific Air Forces would be at Clark Air Base, a former US Air Force base, through the end of the month, Carter said.

A US defence official said the US expected there would be additional follow-on rotations of aircraft.

In addition, up to 75 US troops, mostly Marines, would remain in the Philippines “on a rotational basis” after the conclusion of joint “Balikatan” US-Philippines military exercises this week. The troops would support “increased operations in the region”, the Pentagon said.