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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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: www.dfat.gov.au
ARMS ISSUES : AUSTRALIAN POLICY
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.