Australia Burning

(image via Herald Sun)

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the bushfires that have been ravaging Australia recently; the families affected, and the heroic rescue workers risking their lives for others.

I remember my experiences with the 2001 bushfires: visibility of less than a foot, air so acrid it hurt to breath. When the rural fire service finally cleared an evacuation route for us, flames were literally jumping over the cars as we drove off. Yet it was the image of a some little kid at the evac point, clutching in a little cage his pet – all that he had left in the world, the farm he lived on destroyed – that still moves me today.

Donate to the Red Cross relief effort here.


I’m wondering why there is any doubt as to whether arsonists should be charged with murder for the death toll – estimated to go as high as 230.

For any deaths in NSW it would seem the s.18 of the Crimes Act is quite clear:

18 Murder and manslaughter defined

(a) Murder shall be taken to have been committed where the act of the accused, or thing by him or her omitted to be done, causing the death charged, was done or omitted with reckless indifference to human life, or with intent to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm upon some person, or done in an attempt to commit, or during or immediately after the commission, by the accused, or some accomplice with him or her, of a crime punishable by imprisonment for life or for 25 years.
(b) Every other punishable homicide shall be taken to be manslaughter.

The caselaw on “was done or omitted with reckless indifference to human life” I think is pretty clear, and this would easily fall into the category.

In Victoria obviously they’d merely be charged with s.197A which states:

“A person who commits arson as defined in section 197 and thereby causes the death of another person is guilty of an indictable offence. Penalty: Level 2 imprisonment (25 years maximum)”

I’m unsure of the actual legalities if you still would want to proceed with a murder trial though; I’d assume Vic would have relativly similar provisions on recklessness as NSW would.

Update 2:

(Mark Knight from the Herald Sun)

Update 3: Gary Hughes from the Oz has a very powerful account of his survival here.

Update 4: Corporates have already pledged $14 million. Red Cross has so many people offering to donate blood they can’t schedule them in until next week.  In our worst times, we realise the good that keeps us together.

Update 5: NSW Premier Nathan Rees has ordered a review of arson laws potentially to make the criminal penalties tougher. According to thsi media report, the maximum penalty for arson is 25 years, although I would assume starting bushfires is normally prosecuted under s203E where it’s 14 years. By way of comparison, the maximum peanalty for rape is currently 14 years, and for raping a child is 20 years (s.61I and s.61J respectivly).

Considering as demonstrated previously if people die additional charges or murder can be brought, I am somewhat skeptical about the inadequacy of our current laws and think this more a political stunt by Rees.



2 Responses to “Australia Burning”

  1. JaketheMuss Says:

    The printing company that I work for is sending items down tomorrow on a pallet.

    Yay corporate responsibility!

  2. Ben Raue Says:

    I think our laws are inadequate to deal with arsonists, but tightening them and raising penalties won’t fix it. The problem is that it’s hard to catch arsonists, let alone prove the case, let alone convince a jury that someone is guilty of murder. It’s easy to say “I didn’t expect that to happen”. It’s hard to find the smoking gun (pun intended). Simply raising the penalties won’t fix that.

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