A surge in illegal copper theft has reached alarming levels resulting in blackouts in housing estates and raising public safety concerns.
A surge in illegal copper theft from new housing estates, powerlines, and local sports clubs across South East Queensland (SEQ) has reached alarming levels, resulting in blackouts in housing estates and raising public safety concerns as streets are left in darkness.
Moreton Bay Mayor Peter Flannery has called on the State Government to take immediate action to address this pressing issue that threatens both public safety and the reliability of essential services.
"While this is a statewide issue, here in Moreton Bay, we've witnessed a sharp spike in copper thefts at various project sites, ranging from sporting field upgrades to street lighting projects. Even a train station has recently been targeted five times in six weeks," Mayor Flannery stated.
The ease with which thieves can profit from stolen copper has created a thriving black market, making it imperative for legislative changes to curb this criminal activity. The Second-Hand Dealers and Pawnbrokers Act 2003, which permits individuals to sell stolen copper to pawnbrokers without providing proof of identification and receive immediate cash payments, has inadvertently fueled the copper theft epidemic.
According to Mayor Flannery, a series of simple legislative changes could end the resale market for stolen copper almost instantly, rather than relying solely on surveillance measures and stretched police, Energex, and Council resources. He urged the State Government to amend the existing act to implement the following measures:
Prohibit scrap metal dealers from paying cash for scrap metal.
Require scrap metal dealers to report suspicious transactions to the police.
Mandate scrap metal dealers to keep and maintain detailed records of transactions involving scrap metal, including the seller's personal information.
Align Queensland's legislation with comparable laws in other states, such as the NSW Scrap Metal Industry Act 2016.
The Moreton Bay Council has officially requested the State Government to expedite these amendments, bringing Queensland in line with other states that have already implemented similar measures to combat copper theft effectively.
Senior Constable Jo Arthur emphasised the importance of community vigilance, encouraging residents to be the eyes and ears for the police. She advised residents to report any suspicious activity, particularly when individuals are seen removing items from construction sites, sporting fields, rail corridors, road construction areas, and community venues.
The thieves have shown considerable audacity, carrying out some thefts even in broad daylight. Reports suggest that these criminals have been known to dress up in high-visibility vests, set up fake traffic cones, and brazenly rip copper wire out of the ground in full view of passers-by.
Drawing comparisons with successful measures taken in neighbouring New South Wales, Deputy Mayor Jodie Shipway highlighted the need for Queensland to adopt similar regulations. The changes in NSW, including the registration of scrap metal traders, a ban on cash payments for scrap metal, and comprehensive transaction recording, have shown positive results in curbing copper theft.
"We must act decisively to address this problem at its source. Safety is our primary concern, and the disruption of power supply to housing estates in 2023 due to copper theft is unacceptable. The cost of replacing stolen copper should not burden ratepayers," said Deputy Mayor Shipway.