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original link PM rejects criticism on gun control
By Judith Ireland and Bianca Hall
Jan. 18, 2013, 12:11 p.m.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has rejected claims of an increase in illegal gun imports.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has hit back at claims by the Liberal Party that her government has failed at protecting Australia's borders from illegal gun imports, saying that only 1 per cent of guns in Australia come from overseas.

Speaking to 2UE Radio in The Sydney Morning Herald office on Friday morning, Ms Gillard said that her government had "more than doubled" the number of interceptions of contraband parcels.

This follows criticism from the Coalition and the NSW government that Ms Gillard had asked Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare to investigate ways to reduce suburban violence.

Ms Gillard instructed Mr Clare to explore the limits of the federal government's legal and constitutional responsibilities in combating crime, in the wake of shootings in Sydney's west and south-west and unrest in Logan, south of Brisbane.

The NSW Police Minister, Michael Gallacher, accused Ms Gillard of ''gross hypocrisy'' over the announcement, which was made at the launch of the federal government's new cyber-safety program on Wednesday. He said the federal government was failing ''dismally'' to protect Australia's borders from illegal gun imports.

Opposition justice, customs and border protection spokesman, Michael Keenan, said that the government had slashed jobs in Customs and had ''contributed significantly'' to the problem of suburban violence.

On Thursday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott suggested the bid to reduce crime in the Sydney area was ''an election stunt'', with half of Labor's 10 most marginal seats being in western Sydney or on the central coast.

Ms Gillard said that while Australia did not have a National Rifle Association like the United States - "and thank goodness we don't" - Australia still had a problem with guns.

She said she didn't think it was "right or fair" that people in Sydney had to wonder if a bullet was going to hit their street.

Ms Gillard said that government research in 2011 had found only 1 per cent of Australian firearms came "over the borders'', adding that 44 per cent of firearms in the country had not been given back when they should have during the Howard government's buy-back scheme. A further 12 per cent had been stolen.

On Thursday, Mr Clare said voters in western Sydney were demanding the state and federal governments work together to address violence in that area, ''and that's what they'll get from me''.

Mr Clare is the federal member for Blaxland, which is based in the area and is considered under threat in this year's election.

"I'm from western Sydney,'' Mr Clare said. ''Western Sydney people are worried about crime and worried for the safety of their families. They want more police on the streets and more criminals off the streets.

''We are determined to help western Sydney because we think western Sydney should be safer.''

In November Fairfax Media revealed internal polling showed 10 seats in NSW, predominantly in western Sydney, could fall if an election were held immediately, including McMahon, held by the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, and Watson, held by the Environment Minister, Tony Burke. Others considered under threat were Parramatta, Barton, Reid, Werriwa, Fowler, Banks and Greenway. The seats of Blaxland and Chifley would be close calls.

Mr Clare said he had been asked to prepare options to address violence in western Sydney, but said he would ask the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission to speak to state and territory police across the country.

He said he would work with the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and the head of the Australian Crime Commission and other federal law enforcement agencies to look at what assistance the federal government could provide.

Mr Clare's office said the question of police numbers would be discussed as part of the consultation. Funding for police numbers is the responsibility of the states and territories.

But Mr Abbott ridiculed the proposal.

''Is that an election stunt or is there a general role for the federal government?'' Mr Abbott asked.

He said if Ms Gillard was ''fair dinkum'' about reducing crime, her government would not have cut about $60 million out of the border protection budget.

Mr Clare said customs officials were now seizing twice as many parcels containing drugs or other contraband as they were five years ago. Mr Gallacher, rejected the suggestion that more police was the solution.