Written by Andrew Fraser
May 25, 2016
The ACT Government is looking to provide a maximum two-year prison sentence for people found guilty of lighting fires during total fire bans.
Previously, the offence was a fine-only provision with the maximum penalty capped at $7500.
But now, not only will offenders be liable for up to two years’ prison but they can face a fine of up to $30,000 as well. That’s four times the current maximum.
The proposed changes, introduced into the Legislative Assembly in late autumn, are expected to come into effect before the next fire season. The ACT goes to the polls in mid-spring this year: October 15.
The Emergencies Amendment Bill 2016 also creates a new offence of undertaking a high-risk activity in the open during a total fire ban period in Canberra, known and loved as “the bush capital” and scene of devastating bushfires in 2003 in which 400 homes were lost.
ACT Attorney-General and Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell said, “Lighting fires during a total fire ban is extremely dangerous and it is important the courts have an appropriate penalty available that acts as a strong deterrent …
“Whether through deliberate actions or as a result of reckless activity, fires on total fire ban days can be extremely dangerous and pose a serious threat to life and property …
“Creating a new offence for undertaking high-risk activities – such as welding, grinding, soldering and gas cutting – on total fire ban days reflects the harm that could be caused by undertaking these activities when the conditions are unsuitable.”
Additional high-risk activities can be prescribed by regulation. The changes would bring the ACT into line with a number of states.
The explanatory statement to the Bill says, “While the [current] Act makes it an offence to light a fire, it does not specifically address activities that do not themselves necessarily involve the use of fire, but which may cause a fire to ignite when undertaken in an open area.
“This is in contrast to the position adopted in most other jurisdictions. Noting the risks posed by undertaking certain high-risk activities during a total fire ban period, the review [of the Act, which the new legislation is implementing] considered it appropriate that these activities be restricted during these high fire danger periods.”
The maximum penalties for the new offence of undertaking a high-risk activity in the open during a total fire ban period are 12 months’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of $15,000 or both.
Other provisions relating to arson and other property damage matters remain a part of the criminal legislation in the ACT.
As you can see, if you are charged with these types or offences you are facing serious penalties and should get serious advice.
The team at Armstrong Legal deal only in criminal and traffic law and are ready to advise you and help you get the best possible result from your matter.