As Minister of National Security Stuart Young warned citizens to take note of the amendment to the Explosives Act banning scratch bombs, he must also have known that at least for New Year's 2019, it was a move that was both too little and too late. The Explosives (Prohibition of Scratch Bombs) Order 2018 specifically bans the "manufacture, import, keeping, conveying or selling a scratch bomb," on pain of a fine of $20,000 or ten year's imprisonment.
Between Cabinet's decision to ban the annoying and dangerous fireworks in November and this week's formal publication of Legal Notice 197, a stockpile of these explosives has probably already been stashed for deployment, some of it no doubt motivated by defiance, for use during the Christmas and New Year's traditional display of fireworks. Both children and parents may be tempted to make light of this law in the pursuit of fun and celebration, but this ban on what are essentially shoddily made flash-bang grenades is an important advance in the continuing civil response to the pervasiveness of fireworks in the national landscape.
Now that a legal framework for limiting the trade and use of scratch bombs is in place, Cabinet's sensible intent at limiting fireworks distribution should have been matched with an appropriate public information campaign designed to discourage the use of these popular explosives, which have an unfortunate history of maiming and disfiguring their users.
In October 2016, Sally Ann Cuffie was out for a drive on Divali night when a man threw a lit scratch bomb into the car. The explosive blew up in her hands and years later, she is still to regain the full use of her damaged fingers. Had her hand not been a shield, an infant travelling with her would have been seriously injured if not killed.
Parents and guardians have an important role to play as the year ends in educating their charges about the dangers of fireworks and in overseeing their use at events which are often lubricated with alcohol and loud music. In such circumstances, there are distractions in abundance and in these lapses is ample opportunity for accidents with lasting consequences if fireworks are misused or mishandled.
Stuart Young will not be stopping at scratch bombs and has promised to hold consultations in 2019 about fireworks, although there is no need to amend legislation to ban fireworks altogether. Section 37 of the Explosives Act gives him the power to “prohibit absolutely” the importation and distribution of any explosive.
This will be welcome news to pet owners and the elderly who have not been overjoyed by the discharge of fireworks, but the minister is correct to survey the population to get a better sense of how fireworks might continue to play a part in national celebrations without overwhelming the vulnerable.