Arson legislation

Arson involves intentionally and maliciously destroying or damaging property by using fire.

All Australian states and territories have legislated offences resulting from the unlawful and malicious use of fire. In each jurisdiction it is an offence to use fire to destroy or damage property. Some jurisdictions have specific offences to do with the use of fire to endanger life, while others prosecute such offences under general provisions that prohibit endangering life or committing injury. Where a fire results in the death of a person, this would be prosecuted under general manslaughter or murder provisions.

All states and territories regard arson as a serious indictable offence with heavy penalties. See penalties at 2009 under Criminal law at the page below.

( Note: W.A. penalty & NT penalty under the Bushfire Acts have increased since publication in 2009 of the information at the above link – information follows about these updates )

In addition to legislation establishing indictable offences under the criminal law for the deliberate and malicious use of fire, most States have a range of summary offences ( tried by a judge only ) relating to the inappropriate lighting of fires in national parks, forests and other open areas.

These are typically enacted under legislation covering land management activities such as forestry or national parks legislation, or legislation establishing and governing rural and country fire services. See the Australian Institute of Criminology page below.

See Links below for information specific to each State.

Western Australia

 Section 32 of the Bushfires Act – W.A.

A person who —

(a) wilfully lights or causes to be lit or attempts to light a fire; or

(b) places a match or other inflammable or combustible substance, matter or thing in a position so that it may directly or indirectly be ignited by the rays of the sun or by friction or other means, or be exploded or set on fire, or whereby a fire may be lit or caused and with the intent to cause a fire, under such circumstances as to be likely to injure or damage a person or property, whether the fire be caused or not, is guilty of a crime.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 20 years ( life sentence in W.A. )

Section 22 B

with respect to activities on days of a Total Fire Ban

(2) A person must not —

(a) light, maintain or use a fire in the open air; or

(b) carry out an activity in the open air that causes, or is likely to cause, a fire.

Penalty: a fine of $25 000 or imprisonment for 12 months, or both.

New South Wales

In NSW, intentionally causing a bushfire and being reckless to it spreading is an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment however, if a person dies as a result of a bushfire, the perpetrator may be charged with murder or manslaughter which can carry a maximum penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment.

Download the NSW Attorney-General’s Review of Bushfire Arson Laws 2009 at the Link below – go to the Page below, then scroll down the page & click on “Review of Bushfire Arson Laws”.

From Page 18 of the Report

It is acknowledged that to attract a penalty of 25 years in NSW, the prosecution is required to prove some intent or recklessness in relation to the death. It is unlikely however, in the case of the Victorian offence, that in the absence of such a state of mind, that any court would impose a penalty of that magnitude which would be reserved for the most serious cases. In NSW, the longest sentence imposed for an offence under section 195(1)(b) of the Crimes Act 1900 (property damage by fire simpliciter) is eight years imprisonment. Of those who receive gaol terms and are dealt with in a higher court, more than 80% are sentenced to less than five years imprisonment. Most offenders are dealt with in the local court where the jurisdictional maximum is two years imprisonment.


The maximum penalty for arson causing death in Victoria is 25 years imprisonment. The maximum penalty for intentionally or recklessly causing a bushfire is 15 years imprisonment.


There are heavy penalties for people convicted of arson. A person who willfully and unlawfully sets fire to anything commits a crime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment – 25 years in Queensland. (Criminal Code Act 1899, section 461)

461 Arson

(1) Any person who willfully and unlawfully sets fire to any of the

things following, that is to say—

(a) a building or structure;

(b) a motor vehicle, train, aircraft or vessel;

(c) any stack of cultivated vegetable produce, or of mineral or vegetable fuel;

(d) a mine, or the workings, fittings, or appliances of a mine; is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for life.

462 Endangering particular property by fire

A person who willfully and unlawfully sets fire to anything situated so that a thing mentioned in section 461(1)(a) to (d) is likely to catch fire from it commits a crime.

Maximum penalty—14 years imprisonment.

South Australia

Causing a bushfire

Where a person intentionally or recklessly causes a bushfire, burning vegetation on land which is not that person’s land or land of a person who authorised the lighting of the original fire.   Maximum penalty: imprisonment for 20 years

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory Bushfires Act, effective from 13 November 2014, says you “must not set fire or cause fire to be set to land or property belonging to any other person under such circumstances as to cause or be likely to cause damage to that other person or that land or property”.

Maximum penalty for failure to comply is a $25,000 fine or imprisonment for five years. In addition, the provision for setting fire to bush within a fire protection zone follows:

35 Setting fire to bush

A person shall not set fire to any bush or other flammable material on land within a fire protection zone except with and in accordance with the terms of a permit.

Maximum penalty: 220 penalty units or imprisonment for 5 years. 

Read the Act online at the Link above

Download the Act from the Link above

Find the Fire protection zones at the Link above


From the Australian Institute of Criminology website, under the Criminal Code Act 1924, indictable offences incur a penalty of up to 21 years


Note 1: there are lesser penalties for breaching Fire Bans or breaching rules relating to fire danger areas, or potentially causing fires. For example see provisions 41 to 44 of the NT Bushfires Act ( on page 17 of the PDF version of the Act – see NT section above for link ).

Note 2: there is research and there are programmes on Arson and treatment of arsonists which you can “google” for yourself.  Some follow :

JAFFA –  Juvenile and Family Fire Awareness – W.A.

The Juvenile and Family Fire Awareness Program is a free, confidential education and support program for children between the ages of 6-16 that have been involved in fire lighting.

Juvenile Fire Awareness and Intervention Program, Victoria

(click here )

Run jointly by MFB and CFA for the past 25 years, JFAIP is a state-wide program where a trained firefighter works closely with a young person and their family to reduce and control their fire risk behaviour.

Intervention & Fire Awareness Program – NSW 

( click here )

Note 3.

A lot more quality research is needed to address the question, why do people start bushfires, and to treat potential and actual Arsonists.  Arsonists need long term rehabilitation / treatment programmes, not just time in jail. 


Link below to 2012 Tasmania Report on Arson & Deliberately Lit fires

Note 4:

Number of Charges for Arson actually made


Western Australia 2012 to 2015

A four-year campaign against arson in Western Australia has resulted in an increased number of arrests and charges, but no reduction in the number of deliberately lit fires.

A police strike force targeting arsonists finished the 2015 summer fire season claiming success, with 42 people facing 53 charges.

A joint research project with Edith Cowan University will focus on building a better picture on what is motivating otherwise law-abiding children to light potentially devastating fires.

Number of Charges for Arson actually made – in Victoria 1 July 2014 – 30 June 2015

Victoria Police charged 39 offenders with intentionally causing a bushfire in the 2014-15 financial year, up from 20 in 2013-14.  That is, they were charged with arson or lighting a “suspicious fire.”

Seven people were charged with recklessly causing a bushfire.

A suspicious fire is when a fire is deliberately lit and there is intent to cause damage.

A reckless fire is when a person has not followed reasonable precautions and a fire is caused unintentionally. For example, using an angle grinder or lighting a campfire or burn-off on a Total Fire Ban Day would be considered reckless.

Click on the Link below for the PDF report of Victorian Emergency Service Minister, Jane Garrett’s December 2015 Media Release.


The Australian Institute of Criminology estimates up to half of all bushfires are due to arson or reckless behaviour.

For statistics on other States you will have to look it up

or Search “google” and / or other Sources yourself


To those who have given feedback on Facebook Promotions, saying “You can’t legislate against Lightning strikes”, this Website is, of course, about preventing un-wanted fires as much as possible, and reducing the effect / impact / spread of bush-fires.  We are calling for further TRIALS of FireWatch also, not for more Legislation.