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New report details shocking impact of bushfire arson

Media Release

12 December 2004

Media release from Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator the Hon Chris Ellison

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has released the most comprehensive review ever undertaken into bushfire arson, as Australia faces its peak risk period for bushfires, the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison said today.

Releasing, 'Bushfire arson: a review of the literature,' Senator Ellison said the report found almost half of bushfires throughout Australia are deliberately lit, causing $77 million damage on average, annually.

The report is a world first, as overseas studies have primarily focused on fires lit in buildings or vehicles. The deliberate lighting of bushfires is essentially an Australian phenomenon.

"Australians are all too aware of the devastation bushfires can cause, and that knowledge is only made worse by the fact that so many are deliberately lit," Senator Ellison said.

"This timely report provides important information to the agencies tasked with protecting communities from bushfires about what motivates people to light fires.

"Understanding why people do this is a key step toward stopping bushfire arsonists."

The motives behind the acts are staggering in their apparent simplicity, considering the devastation they can cause, Senator Ellison said.

According to the report, bushfire arsonists are seeking attention or recognition, excitement or relief of boredom, vandalism and anger.

It also found most arsonists' lives are characterised by family relationship problems and breakdown in normal social interactions, employment and academic performance.

Senator Ellison welcomed the AIC's contribution to fighting bushfire arson, while also assuring the community that the Government has worked with the States and Territories to develop model bushfire arson offences attracting a penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment.

The review was conducted jointly with the ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety and is part of a continuing research project funded by the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre.