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Aust bushfire prevention needs new focus

AAP logoAAP 26/09/2016 Helen Velissaris

Australians should report arsonists instead of relying so heavily on controlled burns to prevent bushfires, a leading expert says.

"Often the community know who the problematic people are," Dr Janet Stanley told AAP on Tuesday.

Dr Stanley, a principal research fellow of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, says the community is under-used in tackling deliberately lit bushfires.

She said 80 per cent of bushfires are caused by human activity, but fear of retaliation from reporting a local arsonist means many don't come forward.

"In a small community you might know the person and so you might think, 'oh I don't want to do that to him'," she said.

Arson academic Paul Read says while the rate of arson is increasing - with recent data suggesting it has increased 1000 per cent since the 1970s - there aren't enough rehabilitation options for young offenders.

"Incredibly we don't have a referral network for kids who need therapy versus kids who need a judicial response," he said.

Dr Read said many young arsonists are disadvantaged and abused, and deserve better than a "blanket judicial response".

Dr Stanley and Crime Stoppers have been tracking which communities are more likely to report, why others don't report and what would encourage them to do so.

She has been working on marketing the message that reporting can be anonymous.

Around 40 per cent of arsonists are aged between 15-20, while 10 per cent are under the age of 14.

Both Dr Read and Dr Stanley have also called on authorities to share their bushfire data for a more targeted response on a high risk fire day.

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