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Paul Bongiorno: Hold your fire, Albanese is not done yet

There weren’t many bells and whistles to herald it, but on the first anniversary of the cold-blooded ambush of two Queensland police officers and the Good Samaritan who came to their aid it is worth noting a significant change achieved last week.

To get some real perspective about the agreement for a national firearms register after the Wieambilla killings, a timeline is helpful.

Twenty seven years after the Port Arthur massacre that prompted the introduction of Australia’s world-leading gun ownership restrictions, Anthony Albanese has achieved what no prime minister since John Howard was able or willing to deliver.

Maybe it had a lot to do with the fact Howard’s crackdown has delivered remarkable results, and the Nationals – either in government or opposition – are never enthusiastic gun reformers.

The historic National Firearms Agreement enacted in 1996 with the support of Labor’s Kim Beazley and, much to his credit, the Nationals’ Tim Fischer has saved hundreds of lives.

National firearms reform

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who played a significant role in formulating the national register signed up to last Wednesday by all the states and territories and who will guide the implementing of it, says “our homicide rate is now close to the lowest it’s been in a century and deaths from firearms have plummeted”.

But Dreyfus says those laws were never completed and that was lethally demonstrated on a remote Queensland property last December 12.

One of the killers, Nathaniel Train, had a suspended Queensland gun licence but it had not been taken from him and he was able to buy guns interstate and co-register them.

Queensland Police loudly called for a national firearms register and, in what could be one of her last legacies as premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk pushed for it in national cabinet.

A funding fight stalled agreement at the February meeting but Albanese, perhaps desperate to demonstrate that he wasn’t a distracted “Airbus Albo” stumped up enough funds to encourage the states to help share some of the $250 million initial setup and running costs.

Dreyfus says, “establishment of the register will enable the connection of firearms information with key risk information for police to act upon. This will include police intelligence, criminal records and other relevant government and court information”.

Real-time access

Bringing gun records and real-time access to them into the 21st century deserves much more public attention than a confected crisis over threats to community safety posed by the High Court’s welcome restoration of the role of courts in the denial of any person’s liberty in Australia.

Ironically The Australian which played a significant role – along with its Murdoch stablemates – in whipping up hysteria around the court-demanded release of immigration detainees, was prominent in calling for this latest gun reform and alone of the national media gave the agreement front-page prominence.

The Opposition that spent the past couple of weeks screaming that the Albanese government had failed to keep the community safe had little to say about this landmark national guns agreement that will do just that.

All the more of a mystery why the government itself didn’t do more to give it prominence in its media strategy.

Mind you there was a lot going on last week, just as there is this week and trying to run the media’s agenda in a liberal democracy like ours is always fraught. You do need to have something to sell and then know how to do it.

Late successes

When you put together Bill Shorten’s work on reforming and making the National Disability Insurance Scheme sustainable and Tony Burke’s last-minute big win in getting wage theft criminalised and same work, same pay laws though the Parliament, it is clear the Albanese government is not done yet.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil was criticised for her handling of the indefinite detention brouhaha, but the unveiling on Monday of the government’s new migration strategy looks like good politics and good policy.

Halving the intake from record levels and streamlining visas in a way that fills skills gaps is an overdue economic and social reform, one which its predecessors were incapable of doing as former senior Immigration Department boffin Abul Rizvi never tires of pointing out.

Timely advice

Still, there was some advice from former PM and treasurer Paul Keating at the weekend that gives Albanese something to chew on.

Keating said that voters will reward politicians who pursue bold reform in the national interest and pointed to the Hawke-Keating era as an example.

All true, but nothing was achieved even then quickly or easily. We forget the arguments and bad headlines along the way despite the charisma and popularity particularly of Hawke.

Albanese is no Hawke in that regard, but spelling out more clearly where he wants to take the nation even at the risk of upsetting some people and vested interests need not be foolhardy even if it requires political courage.

Albanese, I’m told, gets it. Let’s see.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with more than 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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