FA 82

23 July 1999

International Small Arms Issues : An Australian Policy Framework

I have today announced a policy framework on Australia's contribution to address the problems caused by the proliferation and misuse of small arms in many parts of the world.

The misuse of small arms contributes to the breakdown of societies across the globe. As a result, prospects for good governance, observance of human rights and economic development are damaged. Citizens of the world's poorest countries suffer the most. Our own region is not immune to these problems.

The international community is increasingly engaged in efforts to address the small arms problem. For example, the EU, the Organisation of American States, and a group of 16 Western African states have been involved in efforts to monitor and limit the production and transfer of small arms. Australia supports these efforts and many others around the world to limit destabilising accumulations and transfers of small arms.

The problems caused by the misuse of small arms are not easily solved. There are many issues to be addressed - illegal trafficking in small arms, legal production and use, stockpiling, law enforcement, disarmament, arms control, demobilisation and human rights, among others.

Australia's policy recognises, therefore, that complementary efforts across a number of fronts, and at the national, regional and international levels, will be needed to generate an effective approach to the problems caused by small arms. Enhanced regional action will be particularly important in providing the building blocks for broader international effort.

Other key elements of Australia's policy are

  • support of aid projects which address the needs of conflict-affected communities in our region. Australia has already supported projects to promote the reintegration of ex-combatants into productive civilian life (Cambodia, Philippines), post-conflict reconstruction (Cambodia, Bougainville), and the reform of police, judicial and penal systems (Cambodia, Papua New Guinea).
  • effective national controls and licence procedures to monitor the import and export of small arms, reflecting arrangements already in place. Australia's domestic firearms policy provides a useful model for the international community as it balances the legitimate needs of firearms owners with the community's interest in controlling these weapons.
  • support for efforts in the South Pacific Forum and the ASEAN Regional Forum to curb the proliferation of small arms.
  • active participation in an ongoing international negotiation to conclude a protocol on the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms.
  • future participation in an international conference on the illicit arms trade, to be held no later than 2001.

Australia's policy is not intended to impede the lawful use of firearms by legitimate owners and does not represent a change in the Government's current position on national gun controls.

A copy of the Australian small arms policy is attached and is also available on the web site of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade:


Australia's Approach

  • The uncontrolled proliferation and misuse of small arms contribute to the breakdown of civil society in many regions, including in the Asia Pacific. Most often, the world's poorest countries are the worst affected.
  • Problems associated with small arms directly affect the prospects for good governance, observance of human rights, human security and socio-economic development in those countries.
  • Australia and other members of the international community recognize the need for early, concerted action to address the problems posed by small arms.
  • Due to the complex nature of the small arms issue, a single, all-encompassing approach would not be effective. Australia believes that complementary efforts at national, regional and international levels will help generate an effective response to the small arms issue. In this respect, enhanced regional actions could serve as building blocks for a broader international effort.

Measures by the Australian Government to Address the Small Arms Issue

National Measures

  • Australia has in place some of the most effective national firearms laws in the world. An historic Nationwide Agreement on Firearms was reached in May 1996, following the Port Arthur massacre.
    • This agreement includes: bans on specific types of firearms; registration systems linked across Australia; a requirement for genuine reasons for owning, possessing, or using a firearm; minimum licensing requirements; compulsory safety training for all licence holders; grounds for licence refusal or cancellation; and minimum standards for security and storage of firearms.
    • There is, however, no intention to impede the lawful use of firearms by legitimate owners.
  • Australia also has in place strict and comprehensive controls and licence procedures to monitor the import and export of small arms. These controls regulate and constrain the legal trade in small arms, which in turn helps to prevent illicit trafficking.
    • All proposed exports from Australia of defence and related goods, including small arms, are subject to comprehensive, case-by-case government review and licence procedures. Licence approvals are issued only where export is consistent with Australia's international obligations and broader interests, including security and human rights considerations.
    • Australia's strict policy on illegal arms transfers is illustrated by the various conditions under which exports of military small arms and military goods are expressly prohibited
      • to countries against which the United Nations Security Council or United Nations General Assembly have imposed a mandatory arms embargo
      • to countries with policies or interests which are hostile to the strategic interests of Australia or its friends and allies
      • to governments that seriously violate their citizens' rights, unless there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against those citizens
      • where foreign and strategic policy interests outweigh export benefits, and
      • if the export would be reasonably judged to affect adversely Australia's military capability.
  • Australia has also decided that in certain circumstances it may be necessary to prevent the export of non-military lethal goods (including certain types of small arms, such as hunting or sporting weapons) to particular destinations on foreign policy, defence or other national interest grounds. The export of non-military lethal goods to any country is prohibited unless an export licence or permit has been issued.

Regional Measures

  • Through AusAID (the Australian Agency for International Development), Australia funds many projects which address the humanitarian needs of conflict-affected communities, particularly in our region.
    • These have included demobilisation and re-integration of ex-combatants into productive civilian life at the end of armed conflict (Cambodia, Philippines); promotion and assistance with post-conflict reconstruction (Cambodia, Bougainville); reform and capacity-building of police, judicial and penal systems in conflict-affected areas (Cambodia, PNG); and assistance to promote respect for international humanitarian law regarding the use of small arms (PNG, Rwanda, Burundi).
    • We will be alert to the need for similar requirements in East Timor in its present period of transition.
  • Australia participates in a sub-committee of the South Pacific Forum (South Pacific Chiefs of Police Conference) which is developing a common regional approach to weapon control, focusing on the illicit manufacture of, and trafficking in, firearms, ammunition, explosives and other related materials.
  • Australian law enforcement agencies are working in consultation with their Papua New Guinean counterparts on ways of restricting illicit trade in small arms between our countries.
  • Australia supports the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms by submitting annual returns to the Register, including voluntary additional information. Australia also encourages our ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) partners to submit annual returns to the Register. The ARF region has the best record internationally in terms of submitting regular, punctual returns. In line with national security considerations, Australia will look positively at proposals to expand the Register's scope to include small arms as a means of increasing transparency in the licit small arms trade.
  • We will also explore the scope for activities to reduce small arms proliferation which Australia could support under the auspices of the ARF

International Measures

  • Australia is a key player in, and contributor to, international efforts to address the regulation of small arms.
  • Australia is participating actively in negotiations in Vienna for a protocol on Illegal Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, as part of the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of a Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. There have been two meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee, in January and March 1999. The target date for completion of these instruments is end-2000. Australia is working towards a protocol which promotes and facilitates cooperation among State Parties with respect to the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, ammunition and related materials.
  • Australia promotes increased transparency in conventional arms transfers and more effective international controls through membership of the Wassenaar Arrangement.
  • Australia is a strong supporter of the draft Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which aims to raise the minimum age limit for recruitment into the armed forces and participation in armed conflict. At present, the limit is set at 15 years of age. We will continue to participate actively in the negotiation of the Optional Protocol, and to support 17 years as the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces.
  • Australia is also one of the strongest supporters of the development of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is a major international contribution to combating gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Statute gives the Court jurisdiction over war crimes, which includes in its definition the conscription or enlistment of children under the age of 15 years into armed combat.
  • Australia supports the efforts of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, and endorsed the recommendations of the UN Panel of Governmental Experts (which preceded the Group) in its August 1997 report. The recommendations on enhancing cooperation among regional organisations and creating a database of authorised producers and traders, in particular, offer scope for future action.
  • In recognition of the increasing prominence of small arms on the international arms control agenda, and the recognised need for concerted action to deal with the issue, Australia will participate in an international conference on the illicit arms trade in all its aspects which is planned to be held by 2001.
  • In the lead-up to the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in South Africa in November 1999, Australia will explore options for raising the small arms issue at the meeting to build on the Commonwealth's demonstrated experience in strengthening legal systems, law enforcement and the security of small island states.

Media Enquiries: Minister - Innes Willox (02) 6277 7500
Department - Mark Croxford (02) 6261 1555

Local Date: Tuesday, 07-Jan-2014 10:35:53 EST

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