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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 5 Hansard (7 May) . . Page.. 1190 ..

Crimes (Bushfires) Amendment Bill 2002

Debate resumed from 21 February 2002, on motion by Mr Stanhope:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR STEFANIAK (10.44): Mr Speaker, we have all seen the devastating results of bushfires at some time or other during our lives. Many of us in Canberra are reminded every day of the week of the devastation caused by the bushfires in Canberra over the Christmas/New Year festive season. Those bushfires destroyed thousands of hectares of forest in the Weston Creek and Yarralumla areas, forest which in some cases took nearly 100 years to grow.

Fortunately-again I state my gratitude to the emergency services workers who fought these fires-no lives were lost and no homes were lost. But we did lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to the territory. We lost natural habitats for our native birds and animals, and we lost a very beautiful landscape. Now all we see is the scars.

These fires were lit by firebugs, people who have a fascination with, and get pleasure and excitement from, seeing fires lit and the devastation they cause. Unfortunately, our laws in the past have done little to effectively curb these firebugs. Hopefully, this new legislation will in future help deter people from lighting dangerous fires which cause so much destruction, heartache and harm to our environment.

We in Canberra were not the only ones to suffer from fires over the summer months. Many on the south coast, in the Blue Mountains and on the north coast lost so much-their homes, their possessions, their livelihood, their animals.

As a result of last summer's bushfires the federal Attorney-General wrote to all jurisdictions urging them to take a national approach to the deliberate lighting of fires and the resultant devastation and destruction. The states and territories were encouraged to adopt the approach developed by the Model Criminal Code Officers Committee which resulted in the bushfire offences contained in chapter 4 of the model criminal code finalised in January of this year.

The government, I am glad to say, has agreed to the approach and, through the introduction of section 118A, has amended the Crimes Act 1900. I am pleased that this new legislation will bring us into line with legislation passed in New South Wales. The section makes it an offence for anyone to intentionally or recklessly light a fire, add fuel to a fire, maintain a fire and/or allow the fire to spread. Further, the bill has a provision which protects persons such as emergency services workers or landowners who are conducting a controlled fire or a controlled -burn.

I was concerned whether the government was going to enact legislation complementary to legislation around the country and specifically legislation in the state that surrounds us, New South Wales. I note-perhaps it was just a bit of confusion-that in one media interview the Chief Minister seemed to be under the impression that the maximum penalty was going to be only 10 years as opposed to 15 years in New South Wales. I am delighted that the penalty provisions are the same as those I understand will be applied in New South Wales.

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