Emergency Services Minister and NSW Nationals Dubbo MP Troy Grant has welcomed a proposal to introduce tougher sentences for arsonists as the State continues to be gripped by drought.

Mr Grant said under the new law, anyone caught deliberately starting a bush fire would face a tough new maximum sentence of 21 years imprisonment – up from 14 years.

“We are putting firebugs on notice, if you do the wrong thing, you will face the consequences,” he said. “We must all work together to protect the Dubbo electorate, and indeed the entire State of NSW, from a bushfire disaster, making sure arsonists are held to account for their reckless and dangerous behaviour.”

The increased sentence will apply to the offence, set out in section 203E of the Crimes Act, of intentionally causing a fire and being reckless about it spreading on public land or someone else’s property. The cost of disaster relief and recovery following NSW bushfires has risen from $11.4 million in 2015-2016 to $23 million in 2016-17.

“The reforms will provide a strong deterrent to would-be arsonists while more than 99 per cent of the State is gripped by drought,” Mr Grant said. “With low rainfall predicted in coming months and large swathes of bushland looking like a tinderbox, we must do all we can to protect the State from another disaster.”

The Attorney General will also ask the Sentencing Council of NSW to:

  • consider if the five-year standard non-parole period for the bushfire offence should be increased; and
  • review the maximum penalties for a range of other arson offences, including destroying or damaging properties.

Attorney General Mark Speakman said there was no excuse for putting people’s homes, farms, stock and lives at risk, particularly when the drought and hot, dry weather during spring and summer were already a deadly combination.

“Under these conditions, bush fires spread quickly and are hard to stop, so it’s important there are harsher penalties in place to deter potential firebugs,” Mr Speakman said.

The NSW Rural Fire Service has more than 150 highly-skilled investigators who work alongside the NSW Police Force to investigate arson. Residents can contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 if they suspect someone has deliberately lit a fire.