FORMER premier Tony Rundle had been in power for a matter of weeks before the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
He was at his North-West home preparing for another Parliament week when he was told there was a mass shooting in the South of the state.
He flew from Devonport to Hobart to be in Tasmania Police’s operations room.
“It was beyond the comprehension of most Tasmanians – they couldn’t believe that it could happen here,” Mr Rundle said.
“When [Martin] Bryant had been taken into custody and the killing had stopped, the site had to stay in situ all that night.
“All of those people who had been murdered – I just couldn’t get my mind around how the relatives must feel knowing that was the case.”
Mr Rundle visited victims at the Royal Hobart Hospital with Greens leader Christine Milne.
“There was a look in their eyes that they were haunted and traumatised by what they had witnessed,” he said.
In the months after the massacre, the Port Arthur area remained relatively deserted.
“I went over to the mainland with the mayor and did a whistle stop tour saying ‘I know this is an awful thing that’s happened but the best thing you can do to help is to keep coming',” he said.
Ms Milne had previously moved unsuccessfully for military style weapons to be banned in Tasmania, and credited then-Prime Minister John Howard for opting to legislate gun reform.
“I didn’t have much time for John Howard’s policies and opposed them vociferously but I have to say he showed great leadership in gun law reform… people have forgotten now just how bitterly this was fought, particularly on the mainland,” she said.
Parliament was cancelled for a week after the massacre, and when it did return Mr Rundle said it preoccupied the government for 12 months.
Attorney-General Ray Groom flew down to Port Arthur the morning after the massacre.
“I had to speak to the staff at Port Arthur, everyone was crying, sobbing and terribly distressed - they'd lost colleagues, they'd lost people they knew, some of them had been present at the time, they were wondering about the future - it was all very awful,” he said.
Mr Groom, in conjunction with cabinet, seized Bryant’s $1.5 million worth of assets and placed them in a fund established for massacre victims.
“Now there were people around Australia who contacted me saying this is the wrong thing to do but I’m sure it was the right thing to do as far as Tasmania was concerned and the people involved, with strong support locally,” Mr Groom said.
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