There have been less than a dozen prosecutions of landowners in the past decade despite over 15,000 incidents of out of control hazard reduction burns, escaping fires and other reckless fire management on properties.
These are serious offences under the Rural Fires Act which attract penalties of up to 7 years imprisonment and fines of $132,000, yet only a handful of prosecutions have been undertaken.
Figures obtained by the Newcastle Herald show that the number of out of control burns is increasing each year with 2,814 in 2019 up from just 338 in 2010.
Greens MP and spokesperson for justice David Shoebridge said:
“It is hard to understand why this government is so unwilling to enforce the law, especially when we know that illegal burning by landowners has been a major source of large scale bush fires.
“These numbers don’t lie, when there is only one prosecution for every 2,000 unlawful burns then the law becomes a joke, and it greenlights illegal burning by landowners.
“Of course there will be cases where desperate last-minute backburns were essential to save life and property, but this can hardly be the case for the thousands of escaped fires that the authorities have on the record.
“You can see as the number of illegal fires has climbed each year how the lack of enforcement has led to more fires starting and more of them escaping.
“We’ve heard from a number of fire crews who were placed at direct risk because of unapproved burns by reckless landowners.
“When a teenager starts a grass fire then politicians call for harsh penalties, but when landowners do the exact same thing there is silence.
“It may be politically convenient for the Liberal Government to focus on teenage arsonists but there is a real issue here of illegal burning by landowners that needs to be addressed.
“One of the major focuses of the current inquiry must be the role that illegal burning by landowners has played in these dreadful fires, and whether or not the state government has been complicit in this practice,” Mr Shoebridge said.
Media: 9230 3030 / 0408 113 952
Escaped fires, Permit Burn, Pile Burn, hazard reduction
Data on prosecution numbers available on request.