The Hon. V.A. TARZIA (Hartley—Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services) (10:42): I rise to speak on the bill, which seeks to amend section 85B of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 by increasing the maximum penalty for causing a bushfire from 20 years' imprisonment to life imprisonment. It also requires a court to require a person found guilty of an offence under section 85B to pay compensation for injury, loss or damage under section 124 of the Sentencing Act 2017.
I make very clear that any act that causes a fire is a despicable act. We know all too well the destruction and the devastation that fires, particularly bushfires, can cause. I fully appreciate the motivations of the member for Waite in moving this bill. As the Attorney outlined, South Australia has strong laws that create offences for acts of arson and causing property damage by fire as well as offences for placing human life at risk.
Section 85 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act makes it an offence for a person to intentionally or recklessly damage property by fire or explosives without lawful excuse and the maximum penalty for such acts is life imprisonment. Section 85B creates a specific offence for causing a bushfire, and the maximum penalty is 20 years' imprisonment.
Where an intentionally or deliberately lit fire or bushfire poses a risk to human life, a person can be charged with endangering life under section 29 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act, which has a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment or 18 if the offence is of an aggravated nature. Where an intentionally or deliberately lit fire or bushfire results in the loss of human life, a person can be charged with manslaughter or murder, both of which attract maximum penalties of life imprisonment.
We have committed to doing all we can to prevent acts of arson. Each fire danger season, South Australia Police target suspected arsonists through what is known as Operation Nomad. This season, Operation Nomad has continued. This season, SAPOL has been assisted by the State Emergency Service (SES) in monitoring more than 80 persons of interest and improving bushfire prevention.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to speak on this bill, and I can say from the outset that I certainly appreciate where the member for Waite is coming from in moving the bill. All members in the place, and indeed all South Australians, are all too aware of the devastation that bushfires can cause. Sir, you saw in recent times in your own electorate the devastation that bushfires can bring.
Since my time as Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services, I have had the privilege of visiting probably by now more than 50 CFS units across the state. I am constantly in awe of the hard work, the determination and the commitment these volunteers show out in our community. These brigades are located in communities all around the state, and many have been affected by bushfires in recent years.
As I said, these volunteers are in communities right across what is a very vast space in our state. Visiting those fire-affected communities, and speaking with those who risk their lives fighting bushfires, makes it absolutely unimaginable to me that a person would be prepared to cause such physical, but also emotional, pain and destruction.
Just recently, I visited the Paracombe CFS. The Paracombe CFS is currently in the member for Newland's electorate, but I think after the election it may be in the member for Schubert's electorate, unfortunately for the member for Newland. It is a lovely part of the world. I visited the Paracombe CFS, amongst other brigades, and I heard harrowing stories from long-term CFS volunteers about their experiences fighting bushfires.
One volunteer was a group officer during the Sampson Flat bushfires of recent times. That person spent an agonising amount of time not knowing whether a crew of his was actually safe during that catastrophe, as the fire consumed the area in which they were allocated. I certainly cannot imagine how traumatic it would have been for this particular group officer and the families of the crew members, who were constantly seeking updates about their loved ones. There are thousands of CFS volunteers with similar stories and experiences right across the state.
To deliberately cause a bushfire is to deliberately cause suffering and loss to South Australians. We know that South Australia already faces enough risk from bushfires that unfortunately ignite naturally due to things like lightning, for example. Having seen the destruction that bushfires cause, and having heard the stories of those who risk their lives fighting bushfires, I think there is no doubt that anyone who deliberately causes a bushfire is unsuitable to be a free member of our community. So I empathise with where the member for Waite is coming from with this bill and I share his commitment to ensuring that South Australian communities are as protected from bushfires as possible.
South Australia has strong laws that ensure people who cause bushfires and place lives at risk are appropriately dealt with. Section 85 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act makes it an offence for a person to intentionally or recklessly damage property by fire or explosives without lawful excuse. The maximum penalty for that is life imprisonment. Section 85B creates a specific offence of causing a bushfire. The maximum penalty is 20 years' imprisonment.
Where an intentionally or deliberately lit fire or bushfire poses a risk to human life, a person can be charged with endangering life under section 29 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act which has a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment, or 18 years for an aggravated offence. Where an intentionally or deliberately lit fire or bushfire results in the loss of human life, a person can be charged with manslaughter or even murder, both of which attract maximum penalties of life imprisonment.
Importantly, our efforts to combat acts of arson and causing bushfires are not limited to just after the event. Every bushfire season, South Australia Police stands up Operation Nomad, which focuses on preventing deliberate, reckless and negligent acts that may cause bushfires. During Operation Nomad, SAPOL also monitors persons of interests who are known arsonists. This bushfire season, SAPOL has proactively monitored, and continues to monitor, over 80 persons of interest.
I also acknowledge that this bushfire season South Australia Police is also being assisted by about 40 SES volunteers. They have been providing very welcome support to South Australia Police through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Marshall Liberal government has zero tolerance for deliberate or reckless acts that cause bushfires. We have strong laws to ensure that those who seek to cause bushfires are brought to justice.