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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 5 Hansard (7 May) . . Page.. 1193 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

and Victoria, it is a shame that the Chief Minister is offering only an increase in the penalty.

The Australian Democrats have always supported prevention over cure. In criminal matters, jailing people who commit crimes for long periods, particularly adolescents and young adults, is not the cure. Let us move this debate away from the "lock them up and throw away the key" mentality and be a bit smarter about addressing problems. Let us look at models of best practice in other jurisdictions. In that way we will find real solutions to what can be the most devastating of problems.

MR WOOD (Minister for Urban Services and Minister for the Arts) (10.55): I rise to support this legislation, though with some regret that we have to take measures like this to prevent events that should never occur in the first place. I mention in particular the great deal of maliciousness in the background of the fires over the Christmas period.

Over the last three decades, the ACT has seen an approximate doubling of bushfires every 10 years. Much of this can be attributed to deliberate setting of fires by thoughtless or malicious members of the community. These deliberately lit fires threaten lives as well as public and private assets, and they cost significant amounts of money to control. The cost of the latest fires was considerable.

In many instances, investigations into bushfires have discovered that ignition can be attributed to a sophisticated incendiary device. Such a device often allows the perpetrator to travel a large distance from the site before the fire is detected. The task of the police in catching fire lighters is therefore extremely difficult. On the rare occasions that a person can be identified, it is important to ensure that there are sufficient provisions within legislation to take punitive action. That is what this bill is about.

Whether or not the people who have caused fires in bushland areas meant to cause harm is somewhat irrelevant, as any fire lit outside of the natural fire regime of a natural area has the potential to impact on natural values.

Fire is an important element of the Australian landscape. Natural ignitions, such as those caused by lightning, provide an opportunity for plants to regenerate from seed or new growth to sprout from tree trunks and stems. This provides new habitats for native animal species. Fire in itself is therefore not always a damaging process and in many cases is an essential natural process.

Plant species respond in different ways to fires. Some species favour regular fire whilst others need an extended fire-free period in order to set seed. When the fire frequency is altered due to deliberate fire lighting, the balance of nature is skewed towards species that regenerate quickly after fire, at the expense of less tolerant species. This can mean that species become extinct in a local area whilst others proliferate and become dominant. Many of the species that become dominant are highly flammable. The next time a fire is experienced in that area, firefighters and adjacent life and property are confronted with a much more dangerous situation than when a more natural or balanced fire regime is in place.

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