CRIMINAL LAW CONSOLIDATION (BUSHFIRES) AMENDMENT BILL

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (10:52): I rise to speak to the Criminal Law Consolidation (Bushfires) Amendment Bill 2021. I certainly appreciate the sentiment the member for Waite has in bringing this bill to the house. As a CFS firefighter and landowner, as I have mentioned in this place many times, either fighting fires on the frontline or mopping up after many in operations—twice on Kangaroo Island and once at Sedan, just outside my electorate currently—I know that bushfires are a terrible thing.

I have been witness to the effects of Ash Wednesday in 1983 and have seen the effects of bushfires right across the state. The Cudlee Creek fire affected Harrogate in my electorate and it was fortunate that the town itself was saved. Sadly, much property was lost and there was a life lost very sadly. Also, there have been many fires down through the South-East recently around Keilira, Kingston and the big one at Lucindale.

There were a couple in my electorate about 15 months ago, the Carcuma fire out the back of Coonalpyn and, more recently, on 19 November last year during the pause, we had the Yumali-Netherton fire. As I have said in this place before, being someone who has fought a few fires, I have had a couple of burn-offs accidentally get away for a minute and I have had to deal with that. But that is what happens in farming.

We have managed to beat them as well, so you do learn what you need to do. I must say there was a time with the Yumali-Netherton fire when we had to make a decision whether to save a house or not and it was within seconds of pulling out. If I did not have hose reels on my fire unit, we would not have stayed because I had to put the safety of my crew first, which included both my young sons.

Certainly, in regard to the Cherry Gardens fire, which was the impetus for the member for Waite bringing forward this legislation, what a disgrace. It appears that either a former or serving CFS volunteer decided they would allegedly commit arson. My understanding is that on that afternoon the Cherry Gardens brigade were at their headquarters and able to deploy very, very quickly when this fire started. There appear to have been multiple ignition points, up to about 10 I believe. It was such a disgraceful action.

We have seen this disgraceful action across the state in previous times when serial fire lighters have flagrantly lit fires. We have seen it impact throughout the Adelaide Hills recently, as I said, at the Cherry Gardens fire. I have seen it impact the Rockley area, which over a period of a few years suffered close to five significant fires in the area between Harrogate, Callington and Murray Bridge, out the back there. They were significant fires with lots of land lost and some property, as in housing and buildings, lost.

When there are incidents closer to urban areas, especially where they get lit up, probably only because of population density there is more significant risk to life. This could have had a far worse outcome had it not been for the volunteers who were ready to go and those other volunteers and firefighters who turned up very, very quickly to combat this blaze. This could have had far worse effects.

We already know from previous studies what could happen with a major event. This was done several years ago in the Blackwood area; there could be up to 300 deaths. Some of these places, and I include Mount Barker in this conversation, have narrow streets, narrow roads. I believe there are certainly some places that are too dangerous, if it is really on, for a CFS crew to even attempt to go down. That is a real issue.

I just do not understand why anyone would think it is fun to light a fire on purpose. It is just such a disgraceful act because the risk is not just to buildings, property or farmland; the biggest risk is the loss of life and major injury.

Young Damien Heym helped fight the Yumali-Netherton fire, and he is now in a skin-tight suit for a couple of years because he got burnt badly trying to do his bit in the fire. It good to see him up and about, getting things done. His family, Sharon and his kids, and others are giving great support to get him on the way to mend. I personally know people who have been severely burnt. Sadly, we saw it on Kangaroo Island with the loss of Dick Lang and his son Clayton in that horrific incident. I do not know if I could think of anything worse than dying in a bushfire.

We must do all we can to prevent this happening. I understand the sentiment of the member for Waite, but I also understand, as described earlier by other members, that the legislation is in place, and perhaps it is up to the courts to impose the tough penalties that are required so that people know the implications of what could happen—especially to try to stop people repeating these actions.

It is disgraceful even in this day and age that not only does this happen but that we also have to have a watchlist of firelighters or potential firelighters. I do not know how big that list is, but it is significant enough for police to knock on doors—and I commend them for their work. It is significant enough for police to have vehicles stationed generally throughout the Hills in those areas that are more densely populated and further out than where I am at Coomandook, to look for the serial arsonists and check whether they are home. If they are not home, they have to check that they are not up to no good, so to speak.

I do not know what people think they have to prove doing this. It is just destruction on a grand scale. They would surely know that if you have a 40-plus degree day, especially, and a bit of wind about, there is a very high potential that someone could lose their life, let alone that major property damage could occur. On this side, we certainly believe the measures are already there in different legislation to get the right outcome.

In my closing few seconds I would like to commend all our firefighters, whether they be CFS, whether they be MFS, whether they be Aerotech and the other fly boys and girls who fight from the air, whether it be all the people associated with farm fire units, or whether it be the people who keep people on the ground fed and watered, including the Salvation Army. They put in a magnificent effort in keeping us all safe. The people who go out causing these acts of arson are the worst of the worst.