Canberrans who throw away lit cigarettes face harsher fines
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Canberrans who throw away lit cigarettes face harsher fines

Canberrans who throw away lit cigarettes face harsher on-the-spot fines under a range of new powers granted to emergency services on Tuesday.

The new powers also give chief officers of the ACT's emergency services stronger powers to shut down buildings or compel people to give information, answer questions and hand over documents during emergencies.

The ACT Legislative Assembly passed the Emergencies Amendment Bill 2014 on Tuesday morning. Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell said it would help "appropriately manage emergency response and recovery operations" and improve "Canberra's bushfire prevention activities".

Under a key change, Canberrans who discard lit cigarette butts face on-the-spot fines of $300. This new penalty is harsher than the existing $200 fine.

"Those that discard lit cigarettes, particularly out of their car windows, need to think about the risk this poses to our environment and public safety," Mr Corbell said.

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The laws clear up what powers the Emergency Services Agency Commissioner, currently Dominic Lane, has to direct a chief officer in times of emergency.

That clarity was needed, the explanatory statement to the bill said, after past reforms introduced the potentially confusing clause stating the commissioner "may not direct a chief officer to undertake an operation in a particular way".

The 2012 changes created the potential for ambiguity at times of emergency, which was seen in a bushfire exercise last year. Mr Corbell said it had now been clarified to ensure the commissioner played a role "in effectively co-ordinating our emergency response and recovery operations".

The reforms also introduce changes to complement the ACT's five-year strategic bushfire management plan.

The government has introduced a way to resolve inconsistencies between that plan and individual plans of management for public land.

The government will also no longer be legally required to publish a list of privately owned assets of public interest which are potentially vulnerable to bushfires.

The government has also given clearer powers to the ESA to deal with emergencies that threaten the ACT's essential services.

Christopher Knaus is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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