Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 12 Hansard (13 October) . . Page.. 4296..
MR RATTENBURY (continuing):
since the value of a penalty unit was last reviewed and the effect of inflation in the intervening period does justify this increase now.
It is important as we pass this legislation to reflect on the impact of such an increase. It will impact differently on people, depending on their level of income and how many fines they accumulate. For those people on lower incomes who accumulate multiple fines, the impact of the $10 increase will be much greater than for others, of course.
It has been noted here in the Assembly in the past the unfortunate fact that you can go to jail in the ACT as a way of "repaying"unpaid fines. From the Greens point of view, imprisonment should always be a last resort and the Greens do not support imprisonment for the non-payment of fines. In the vast majority of cases, imprisonment for a fine defaulter is completely inappropriate.
A sensible alternative to such an outcome was proposed in 2006 by my predecessor, Deb Foskey, who proposed that the court be given the discretion to order that fines be repaid through undertaking community service as opposed to through imprisonment. Whilst the government did not support that proposal at the time, citing a number of technical reasons why the proposal did need more consideration, I am pleased to note that in the 2009-10 budget the government committed funds to establish such a scheme, and the Greens fully support that initiative.
In August this year the Attorney-General noted that rollout of the policy initiative was around 12 months away. The reason for the lead-in time before the policy can come into effect is that non-government organisations will be responsible for directing the work to be undertaken during the community service. Clearly, an amount of time is needed for consultation and to develop the program before any court is given the power to require defaulters to undertake such a community service order.
The need for such a program of community service orders is reinforced by what we are discussing today because fines will increase as a result of the decision we make today and this can only be an increased burden on those on lower incomes who have defaulted on repayments. So the sooner the government is able to put this program in place to provide an alternative to going to prison for those who do default, the better.
Having said that, and just reflecting on the broader implications of this bill, the Greens will be supporting this bill today.
MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water, Minister for Energy and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (10.23), in reply: I would like to thank members for their support of this bill. The bill amends the provisions of the Legislation Act 2001 that define the values attached to penalty units. The statute book for the ACT uses the concept of penalty units when an offence sets a maximum fine as a penalty. Section 133 of the Legislation Act 2001 defines the actual amount of what a penalty unit is worth. At present one unit for an individual is worth $100 and one unit for a corporation is worth $500. As members have noted, these penalty units were last reviewed eight years ago.