Murder charge threat to arsonists

  Murder charge threat to arsonists

25 March 2009

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Australia — Bushfire arsonists could face murder charges under tougher anti-arson laws to be introduced by the Federal Government within the next three months.

Following a meeting of fire chiefs, police and criminologists in Canberra yesterday, Attorney-General Robert McClelland has pledged to introduce laws that would provide for nationally consistent penalties as well as more frequent jail sentences for those convicted of arson.

“The model criminal law has 15 years, whereas a number of jurisdictions have 20 years. And I think, clearly, where circumstances where the arsonist is recklessly indifferent to the loss of life, clearly, you have to look at more severe penalties than the 15 years,” Mr McClelland told The Age.

“The evidence given to the forum today was that the majority of people who are convicted of arson are not given a sentence, and of those given a prison sentence, it is less than six months.”

He said arsonists responsible for bushfire deaths should be charged with murder. “It’s certainly my view … I think the test of murder is if somebody commits an act and it is recklessly indifferent to whether they cause loss of life.

“No one has been charged with murder in Australia in relation to a bushfire arson.”

The proposals are set to go before a meeting of attorneys-general in April and Mr McClelland said he would like to see the tougher laws introduced within the next three months.

He said the Government would look to California for an example of tougher bushfire arson legislation, where such arsonists can be charged with murder.

Yesterday’s conference committed to a new action plan on arson that would include a national database on bushfire arson and arsonists, as well targeting and monitoring known and suspected arsonists during the bushfire season.

The Government had previously committed to self-extinguishing cigarettes, and Mr McClelland said companies would have until March next year to introduce the cigarettes.

“The new standards require all cigarettes manufactured or imported after March 2010 to comply with stringent new regulations that will reduce the likelihood of fires being started from smouldering cigarettes,” he said.

? The ABC has been asked to submit all video and audio footage recorded during the Victorian bushfires as evidence for the royal commission.

ABC state director of news and current affairs, Marco Bass, said the ABC had received a “wide-ranging” summons requesting video, audio, text, hard copy and digital files relating to the bushfires.

He said the ABC’s lawyers were negotiating with the royal commission as to what could be used.

“It’s a massive request, but we’re working it out. Obviously, it’s our desire to co-operate as fully as we can with the commission’s requests, but we’re currently trying to refine that request into something that is manageable.”

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