Hon. Robert McClelland MP
Minister for Home Affairs & Justice
Hon. Brendan O’Connor MP
The Gillard Government today launched the latest weapon against bushfire arsonists this summer – the ability to use a national police database to keep track of known arsonists and suspected arsonists.
Australia faces its highest grassfire risk for 40 years this summer, especially in the southeast of the country. This is largely the result of increased vegetation from last summer’s floods and storms.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the new National Arson Notification Capability will allow arson warning flags to be added to criminal record information held on the National Police Reference System, managed by CrimTrac.
“As we head into another bushfire season, this new capability will arm police with another tool to protect Australian communities from the threat of arsonists,” he said.
“This capability will be expanded by December, to include an extra search capability which will allow police to search for any person of interest with an Arson Warning Flag by specific location – suburb by suburb.
“It’s a sad fact that up to half of the estimated 54,000 bushfires in Australia each year are either deliberately lit or started in suspicious circumstances.
“Arson, in all its forms, is estimated to cost the Australian community approximately $1.6 billion per year.
“However, it’s the human toll that is most devastating. Bushfires are one of the leading causes of death from disaster and have accounted for more people injured than all other natural disasters combined.”
Minister for Home Affairs and Justice Brendan O’Connor said with the new facility, police services will add flags against persons who have been convicted or charged with arson related offences anywhere in Australia.
“The warning flags will assist police in identifying arsonists and alert their counterparts around Australia whenever they are aware of a convicted or suspected arsonist,” he said.
“Police will be alerted to possible offenders in a particular area and will be able to check the names of people leaving the scene of an arson incident.
“The Capability will capture both new and existing offences – its development involved updating over nine million existing criminal records to include Arson Warning Flags where appropriate. “
Mr O’Connor said the Commonwealth Government was working together with Police Ministers from every State and Territory to help catch arsonists.
“This new capability has the strong support of law enforcement agencies from across the country,” he said.
“It means different record systems between States and Territories won’t be an issue in keeping track of arsonists this summer.”
Mr McClelland said the Arson Notification Capability is an initiative of the National Forum for the Prevention of Bushfire Arson which the Gillard Government has convened each year since the devastating Victorian bushfires of 2009.
The new capability, funded by the Commonwealth Government, will help prevent deliberately lit fires from causing such destruction in the future.