CANBERRA – Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has dismissed criticism that he is politicising the 1996 Port Arthur massacre and declared there will "always be suspicions" the Prime Minister is prepared to water down gun laws in return for votes.
Despite clarifications from Malcolm Turnbull Tuesday that Australia's gun laws are "set in stone," several MPs and Senators from the Government's junior coalition partner, the Nationals, are agitating for a relaxation of a particular lever action shotgun ban.
The gun in question - the seven shot, rapid fire, lever-action Adler A110 - is also, crucially, a weapon that crossbench Senator David Leyonhjelm has been lobbying the Government to allow back in the country.
The Liberal Democrat has accused the Turnbull Government of deceiving and "dudding" him on a deal to vote in the Senate for the Government's industrial relations laws, which have just passed the House.
PM Turnbull returns to his seat after a division in the House of Representatives pic.twitter.com/i1E6NAPyAW— andrew meares (@mearesy) October 19, 2016
The Nationals' agitation, and Leyonhjelm's warning that his relationship with the government will now be "difficult," have been seized on by the Labor Leader.
"We will always be suspicious now that Malcolm Turnbull's prepared to water down gun laws in return for a vote," Bill Shorten told reporters in Canberra.
"Australians know they can't trust Malcolm Turnbull with proper strong gun laws."
What it is about the Adler shotgun?
A temporary ban was placed on the seven-shot, lever-action shotgun in 2015
A magazine can be emptied in a matter of seconds
It can fire seven rounds with capacity for an eighth
Proponents want it help deal with feral animals
Opponents say it is too powerful and could end up in the wrong hands
The future of the seven-shot lever-action Adler shotgun is separate to the national firearms agreement struck by them Prime Minister John Howard in the wake of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
Separately, after Lindt café siege in Sydney, the Federal Government wanted a review of the Adler's classification and imposed a temporary ban while states and territory justice ministers reviewed the weapon.
In Australia, guns are classed as A, B, C or D depending on their capability. A is relatively easy to get, while C or D are highly difficult. There is no current consensus on the seven shot Adler, but a five shot, leaver-action Adler is available.
"The ban will remain in place until such time as the state and territory governments conclude the review because they are responsible for the regulation of firearms," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Canberra.
Federal Nationals MP Mark Coulton, Senator Bridget McKenzie and NSW Nationals Minister Troy Grant want a relaxation of the ban, citing problems for "law-abiding citizens" with feral animals like pigs.
Mark Coulton in discussion with Justice minister Michael Keenan as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull departs the House pic.twitter.com/MJOHpDfsll— andrew meares (@mearesy) October 19, 2016
"I'm very frustrated that this has become a political issue when it's really one about compliance and process," Coulton told the ABC.
"It's one that requires the agreement between the states and the Commonwealth. It's been going on for some time and how this could be portrayed as watering down gun laws is beyond me."
Liberal MP Sarah Henderson has attacked Labor for raising the Port Arthur massacre as it criticises the government for "horse trading."
"I absolutely condemn the way in which Labor is using the Port Arthur massacre in its grubby politics," Henderson said.
"20 years ago, I was there. It is incredibly distressing that Labor would invoke the memory of those victims, would use the Port Arthur massacre in this grubby political game."
just remembering this Adler shotgun piece from Ricky Muir https://t.co/wsZjjmqlhR— Jonathan Green (@GreenJ) October 18, 2016
But the Opposition Leader is unrepentant, accusing the Prime Minister of weakness.
"The National Party, they know a weak Liberal PM when they see one and they are cracking the whip again," declared Shorten.
Shorten: PM "is so weak that if anyone stands up to him for long enough they can tweak his tail and make him change what he previously said"— Katina Curtis (@katinacurtis) October 18, 2016
"Malcolm Turnbull, at best, was contemplating a deal, at worst he had done a deal."
"He should have ruled this matter out when the first question from the first journalist came. He didn't. Now the National Party sense blood in the water."