June 12th, 2007 at 09:19am
It’s that time of the year again when the debate over whether or not we should allow private use of fireworks in Canberra during the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend manages to rears its ugly head. It’s a debate with extremes, and regardless of the outcome, a large number of people would not be happy.
I’m personally not a fan of fireworks, they don’t interest me and I don’t feel any need to play with them. The mass public displays (such as those seen on New Years Eve) also don’t particularly interest me. That being said, I don’t think banning fireworks is the right decision, many people like fireworks and use them responsibly, it’s the minority of people who don’t that are the problem.
As it happens, most of the concern over fireworks revolve around fireworks which are already illegal. It has been suggested that these fireworks which are illegal here, may be being imported from the Northern Territory where the restrictions aren’t as tight. A black market clearly exists for fireworks, and in my view banning private fireworks outright will only strengthen the black market. The problem may be reduced, but the problem, rather than being mostly confined to a few weeks each year would become a year-round problem.
Of course there is also the issue of people who are using fireworks relatively sensibly, but manage to set fire to nearby grass or bushland. This stretched the fire brigade to the limit on the weekend. A solution has been suggested for that as well, and that is that the government should designate various places (such as public ovals) as firework zones, and ban them everywhere else. You could then have the fire brigade and ambulance on standby at these venues.
The idea has some merit, it would certainly reduce the strain on the emergency services and may even turn the fireworks into a more interesting community event than the current situation where everyone lets off their own fireworks in isolation. The issue with this plan is insurance. The government, by sanctioning places as fireworks zones, would invent an insurance issue, and naturally the cost of insuring such an event would be quite considerable due to the risk involved. Sadly all it would take is one idiot burning their arm or injuring a child and the whole idea would come crashing down.
If you can’t limit the fireworks like that, you could have a public display and ban private fireworks. It solves a lot of problems, much like an outright ban would, but it brings with it the same black market issues. I wouldn’t rule out a public display as an option, but it would be a bit superfluous seeing as banning private fireworks isn’t overly practical.
The option that I like is a better regulated option. Rather than having the fireworks on sale in every business that can be bothered getting a permit, for the entire week before the long weekend, you restrict it to a handful of specialist fireworks importers, and only allow them to sell the fireworks on the day that fireworks will be allowed. Then you restrict the fireworks to one night between 6pm-10pm, and only allow people who have applied for (and received) a permit purchase the fireworks, and then only in regulated quantities. The restrictions may seem onerous, but in my view, it would be the best way to stop the overly abundant abuse of fireworks. You could still have a public display on another night under these circumstances.
The fact of the matter is that for the next few weeks people will continue to let off fireworks, either because they innocently have some left over, or deliberately purchased too many fireworks so they would have plenty left over. Catching these people is nearly impossible due to the fact that once they let off the fireworks they scamper, and the police have no way of finding them.
The current system isn’t ideal, and I don’t think an outright ban is either, but I think the compromise solution I have suggested here would be a reasonable compromise for both extremes of the annual argument.