The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 14:50 :56 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Police questions regarding firearms licences.
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY: I understand that in order to gain a firearms licence applicants are required to undertake firearms training. This is following an initial approval process whereby a background check is conducted to determine that the applicant is a fit and proper person to hold a firearms licence. Upon completion of firearms training, the applicant's training certificate is sent to the Firearms Branch by the training provider ahead of final approval and the issuing of a licence. I am advised that currently applicants are experiencing extended delays to receive the initial approval to undertake firearms training, with some being told that it will take four to five months. I am further advised that there are also extended delays in receiving a final firearms licence following completion of their training, with some having to wait two to three months. My questions are:
Can the minister advise if the time frames outlined are accurate in reflecting the average time frame to obtain a licence?
Can the minister advise how many staff have been assigned by SAPOL to conduct the initial background checks, how many staff have been assigned to assess applications after receiving a certificate of completion and whether they are the same staff or in two different areas?
Can the minister advise how many new applications SAPOL received thus far in the 2015-16 financial year and how many of these are still outstanding?
Can the minister advise if SAPOL has any plans to improve the efficiency of this process and, if so, provide details?
The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Police, Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Road Safety) ( 14:52 :49 ): I thank the Hon. Mr Darley for his important question on a topic that I know is heartfelt and of concern regarding many legal firearms users throughout the state of South Australia. I can inform the chamber that new applications for firearms licences are currently being processed by the Firearms Branch. Once the Firearms Branch completes background checks, a letter is sent informing applicants of a requirement for them to organise and undertake a relevant training program conducted via TAFE. SAPOL is not invited in the process of facilitating that training nor the time frames to completion. Upon completion, a certificate of completion is sent to the Firearms Branch.
I am also happy to go into a bit of detail regarding the Hon. Mr Darley's second question. The Firearms Branch Adjudication Section handles all firearms licence applications processes, including probity checking, training requirements and licensing. Critically, the demand on this section of SAPOL is quite substantial, with the section receiving on average 3,000 related documents per month requiring varying degrees of research, investigation, follow-up and processing. The section is managed by a sergeant and a senior constable and staffed by eight full-time administration support officers undertaking adjudication roles and three undertaking a senior adjudication role. In addition, Firearms Branch currently employs a number of temporary staff to support the over 57,000 licence, permit and registration applications processed each year—57,000 is an incredibly large number.
Temporary staff numbers fluctuate on the basis of work volumes and associated initiatives, such as firearms amnesties, and of course that is a significant event that has occurred recently in South Australia.
Regarding the Hon. Mr Darley's third question, I am advised there are 2,821 new applications for a firearms licence that have been received to date during this financial year; 624 are being processed and include applications being delayed within legislative waiting periods by completion of required training or awaiting receipt of the Firearms Branch certificates of completion.
Regarding the commitment to try to improve the area generally, all firearms licensing and registration processes are currently paper based, labour intensive and not representative of contemporary business practices. I think this is something the Hon. Mr Stephens has asked questions about previously. A replacement system is envisaged in the future; however, it is predicated on that such a system will require about two years to implement, once funded, and the cost attached to that is not insignificant.
The Firearms Branch has implemented a staffing model to support the present business model using the current firearms control system, having increased staffing of the adjudication section recently, and the firearms licence renewals are presently being processed within two weeks and permits to acquire firearms are being processed within one week. I think that represents an improvement on some of the frustrations that have been experienced previously. This is something that we want to get right.
There are a lot of people in the South Australian community who represent legitimate, law‑abiding firearms users. We want to make sure that those people who are trying to do the right thing, encounter a smooth and efficient system. But no system is ever perfect. We have to make sure that we are constantly trying to improve things, and that is something that SAPOL is actively turning its mind to with respect to the applications for firearms licences in the state of South Australia.
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 14:57 :24 ): In respect of my first question, as I have said, I have been provided with times ranging from six to eight months to get a licence. Can you comment on that?
The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Police, Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Road Safety) ( 14:57 :38 ): Not being familiar with the specific circumstances that the Hon. Mr Darley is referring to, it is probably difficult for me to be able to make a specific comment. What I would say generally is that we would hope that all applications that are rudimentary are being dealt with in a manner that is efficient. I think one would reasonably expect a quicker time line than the one you have outlined, but not knowing the specific circumstances that you are referring to with respect to the application that you are referring to, it is difficult for me to make a comment.
There is no attempt on behalf of the government to suggest that the system that has recently been in place is perfect; we acknowledge that there is work that needs to be done. We are not seeking to avoid scrutiny in that respect. We, as a government, and SAPOL are putting efforts in place to ensure that we can try to improve the process, as I have outlined, and that is something that we remain committed to. With respect to the Hon. Mr Darley's specific question, I am not in a position to answer it by virtue of the fact that it is in regard to a very specific application.