Page 608 - Week 02 - Thursday, 24 March 2022

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vulnerable Canberrans may still face court due to non-payment of fines for what most would view as minor transgressions; and

(2) calls on the ACT Government to:

(a) provide information (in the form of general information and statistics, or representative samples, as appropriate) on:

(i) the extent to which unpaid infringement or penalty notices for minor offences are pursued through the courts; and

(ii) the resource implications of that enforcement action, with regard to the magnitude of the fine;

(b) examine alternative options to improve equity, including whether and in what circumstances a fines regime would be likely to remain effective without the option to pursue a prosecution through the Courts; and

(c) report back to the Assembly by 30 September 2022.

The primary purpose of fines is to encourage compliance with the law. On the face of it, having a system of fines for everyone results in the law being applied equally to all citizens. The reality, though, is that a system of set fines for everyone does not recognise the unequal capacity of people to pay. It does not recognise the disproportionate impact on vulnerable Canberrans. By vulnerable Canberrans, I am talking about the young, the old, the sick, the disabled, the impaired, those who lack the financial means, the illiterate, and those who speak English as a second language or not at all. They are the people who are most significantly impacted by fines and possible ensuing court action.

The genesis of this motion was the justice and community safety committee’s inquiry into the Electoral Amendment Bill, and listening to Mr Hanson and his concerns about 16 and 17-year-olds being on a pathway to criminalisation for failing to pay a fine. It made me think of not just young people but all vulnerable Canberrans—and not just new bills but all existing legislation that is on the register.

As a recent publication by Australian researchers Julia Quilter and Russell Hogg points out:

Fines enforcement produces very real, but often hidden, hardships for the most vulnerable. Despite its familiarity and apparent simplicity and transparency, the fine is a mode of punishment that hides complex penal and social realities and effects.

I wish I could provide the statistics on the rate of vulnerable people going to court due to unpaid fines; sadly, I have not been able to find a meaningful measurement of this. Canberrans, on the whole, and on average, demonstrate higher levels of compliance than the rest of Australia. It is what has kept us safe during COVID. Therefore, where there are instances of noncompliance, we need to scratch a little deeper and determine why.

There may be smarter ways of going about achieving better outcomes—ways that do not involve the waste and expense of costly court actions, ways that foster relationships between the government and Canberrans, building trust, understanding

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