Stronger bushfire arson penalties pass the lower house

Today, the House of Assembly unanimously passed Sam Duluk MP’s Private Members Bill to increase the penalties for arson. 

The Criminal Law Consolidation (Bushfires) Amendment Bill 2021 (the Bill) seeks to extend the maximum penalty for causing a bushfire from 20 years to life imprisonment.  

The Member for Waite who introduced the legislation earlier this year, welcomes its passage through the House.  

“By proposing a change to the maximum penalty for deliberately lighting a bushfire from 20 years to life imprisonment, we send a strong message and deterrent to those considering this atrocious act”, said Mr Duluk.  

“Our community needs greater protection from firebugs. It is disappointing to learn that in the past three years, of the 30 defendants trialled for bushfire arson only six have been convicted and of those only four have faced an imprisonment of an average sentence of two and a half years. 

“It is always distressing to hear of a bushfire and even more disheartening to hear of a bushfire ignited by arson”, said Mr Duluk.  

Documents obtained from SAPOL show charges have been laid in only nine out of the 111 suspicious blazes between August 2017 and September 2020. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws show the number of suspicious fires in metropolitan Adelaide increased almost fivefold from seven in 2018 to 31 in 2019.    

“The recent Cherry Gardens bushfire that impacted many residents of my community burnt through 2700 hectares of land, took with it two houses, farm property, buildings, countless native animals and threatened the lives of many”, said Mr Duluk. 

It is estimated a quarter of a million dollars ($257,500) will be spent on cleaning up the recent Cherry Gardens bushfire and future biodiversity projects. With other undetermined costs, such as civil works, this could take the final bill to more than $1 million. Deliberately lit fires across Adelaide have caused more than $7.3m damage in the last three years.  

“This legislation also establishes a pecuniary penalty, that if found guilty an arsonist will pay compensation for injury, loss or damage that results from the fire and I hope through this amendment, we can start to recoup some of the costs sadly worn by all of us. 

“The physical and emotional costs associated with bushfires are an immense burden for both the local communities and the State Government. We need the law to reflect this and ensure firebugs who put life and property at risk are responsible for the full consequences of their actions”, said Mr Duluk. 

Mr Duluk will now continue his advocacy to ensure the legislation will pass the Upper House of Parliament before the beginning of the 2021/2022 Bushfire season.