Pin the tail on the donkey with gun buyback costs

The Government has allocated $150m to buy back banned weapons, but uncertainty remains, and the final cost could easily be double that, Laura Walters reports.

The Government’s gun buy-back scheme has been allocated $150 million in Budget 2019, but the cloud of confusion hanging over the scheme remains.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the amount was essentially a placeholder figure, but he would find more money, if needed – that’s why there were buffers and contingencies build into Budgets.

Following the massacre of 51 people in two Christchurch mosques on March 15, the Government urgently moved to ban all military-style semi-automatic weapons.

In order to get the types of weapons used in the terrorist attack off the streets, the Prime Minister and Police Minister Stuart Nash committed to a gun buyback scheme, similar to the kind set up in Australia following the Port Arthur massacre.

Last month, Nash laid out the framework for dealing with the legal ownership of weapons, magazines and parts and the broad approach for determining payments, as part of the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Bill.

“The regulations will create a framework to set compensation based on make, model and condition of the items. They will provide for rights of review and appeal,” he said at the time.

“Independent advisors will develop the price list for approval by Cabinet. A separate expert panel of advisors will be established to determine fair compensation for high value firearms.”

The problem is the total cost of the buyback has been impossible to calculate, due to the mystery surrounding the country’s arsenal.

It’s estimated there are anywhere between 1.2 million and 3m guns in the country. Many of those will be in the hands of gangs or be part of the black market. There are just 250,000 registered gun owners across New Zealand.

"Everyone will appreciate, in New Zealand we don’t know how many guns there are."

Without a gun register, and a black market firearms culture, it’s hard to know how many guns are floating around the country, how many will come back as part of the buyback, and what that will cost.

While Treasury initially estimated the buyback cost to be $100m to $200m, there has also been a lot of couching, due to uncertainty.

Budget 2019 has put aside $150m for the cost of buying back guns, along with $18m to fund the collection, recording, storage, processing and administrative costs, totalling $168m.

It’s the mid-point of the range initially estimated by Treasury, and it appears to show that officials, playing pin the tail on the donkey, were forced to pick a spot for the time being.

“Everyone will appreciate, in New Zealand we don’t know how many guns there are,” Robertson said.

A lot of different numbers have been thrown about, and work was underway to try and get a better idea of what the final figure might be, he said.

The Council of Licensed Firearms Owners had estimated $500m, while other experts were guessing a figure closer to $300m.

Police advice was that the cost of a buyback would be “high”.

"There is significant uncertainty over the quantity of firearms, parts and magazines covered by the prohibitions."

National party spokesman Chris Bishop said $150m was "way too light", and based on the analysis he'd seen the cost would be at least $500m.

Bishop said he wanted to see the analysis on which the Budget figure was based.

Newsroom understands there is still a lack of clarity around the regulations and how the buyback will be carried out, as well as the cost. Robertson said meetings were underway and implied progress would be made soon.

On Thursday, Nash refused to answer questions about the buyback, or the associated costs.

The Government knew the buyback scheme was a big commitment from the start, and nobody knew the true cost, but they had to start somewhere. Robertson added the cost would be spread out over time.

The Budget Economic and Fiscal Update reiterated the level of mystery surrounding this cost.

“There is significant uncertainty over the quantity of firearms, parts and magazines covered by the prohibitions,” it said.

“Depending on the level of compensation and the volume of items surrendered, additional costs, above what has already been provided in the fiscal forecasts, may be incurred.”

Since the Government's decision to ban semi-automatic guns in April, about 530 firearms have been handed over to police. Ahead of the law change, about 2000 guns were relinquished.

It was expected many would wait until after the amnesty, and until the price and regulations have been set, to hand over their property.

There will of course be some weapons which are illegally held, which will not be turned over as part of the buyback. And some radical gun owners have said they will not hand back their guns.

However, it is expected the cost will still likely exceed the $150m, and the Government is prepared for that.

Budget 2019: Read more

A budget of knotty contradictions

Real Budget delivered under ‘hack’ shadow

Devil’s in the detail for big water plan

Rod Oram: Long on rhetoric, short on transformational funding

What the Wellbeing Budget should have said

Kids in schools? How the Budget will affect you

Mental health gets long-overdue cash injection

Transport spend-up, housing flat

Rail infrastructure gets a boost

Help us create a sustainable future for independent local journalism

As New Zealand moves from crisis to recovery mode the need to support local industry has been brought into sharp relief.

As our journalists work to ask the hard questions about our recovery, we also look to you, our readers for support. Reader donations are critical to what we do. If you can help us, please click the button to ensure we can continue to provide quality independent journalism you can trust.


Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

With thanks to our partners