Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 5 Hansard (7 May) . . Page.. 1192 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

there is a general commonsense concept of arson and of bushfire lighting in Australia in particular as distinctive antisocial acts. So enabling prosecution of these specific acts fits this understanding.

However, the Greens also note that, of itself, creating the offence will not necessarily lead to a reduction in the incidence of bushfire lighting. There may be some deterrent effect by the heightened awareness of penalties coming from publicity surrounding this new law, but ultimately crime prevention is not achieved just by ramping up penalties or creating more specific offences.

MS DUNDAS (10.52): I rise today on behalf of the Australian Democrats to address this bill. As Mr Stefaniak and others have noted, the bushfires that raged in New South Wales and the ACT over the last Christmas break were certainly devastating. Canberrans take pride in the nature reserves and urban bushland that make Canberra the bush capital, but with that comes the risk of bushfires.

Although no lives were lost, which it must be said is part miracle and part the work of our courageous firefighters, the devastation the fires caused on the nature reserves around Canberra is still evident today, and the effect on families over the festive season cannot be underestimated.

It has come to light that many of these fires were deliberately lit, and many politicians responded with a "talk tough on firebugs" campaign. The Chief Minister noted in his presentation speech that his government is not one to agree with the notion that an increase in penalties will solve the problem. I would like to agree with him, but it is odd that in the first few sitting weeks of this new Assembly we have seen the Attorney-General introduce a bill with a 10-year sentence for people guilty of a hoax and now 15 years for someone who starts a bushfire. In neither case have wee seen extra funds allocated for programs implementing preventive measures.

It is true that people who commit crimes need to be brought to justice, but the justice system supposedly is also about rehabilitation. Despite the words of our Chief Minister, this government seems set to follow all other state governments with a "lock them up and throw away the key" attitude.

There has been some interesting academic work looking at the behaviour of people, particularly children and adolescents, who light fires, and it comes down to about four main themes. They are curiosity, a cry for help, part of general antisocial behaviour and, perhaps most concerning for some, a pathological desire for destruction. Any of these conditions may be exacerbated in people who display other mental health conditions such as feelings of distress, alienation, thought disorder and poor reality testing. Given the mental health issues, I ask the Chief Minister what real solution there was in raising the penalty. Will it see more people incarcerated because of mental illness?

Across the border in New South Wales, a state that was also devastated by bushfires over Christmas, Premier Carr was populist yet innovative in his approach. He set up a prevention task force and, when asked to describe penalties, spoke of taking young people and rubbing their noses in the ashes. He also wanted to get young people to confront burns victims in hospitals. If nothing else, Premier Carr realises that lifting jail penalties alone is not enough. With other options being explored in Western Australia

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .