Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 06 Hansard (Tuesday, 22 June 2010) . . Page.. 2199 ..
community work order. They will result in the fine effectively being paid to government. They will also, clearly, result in money being deducted from the fine defaulter without their consent. If these mechanisms are followed for the wrong defaulters, they have the possibility of being no better than sending them to prison. If money is seized from the wrong type of defaulter, the financial hardship that caused them to default in the first place will simply be exacerbated.
The Greens have looked closely into this issue. We can see that the legislation has gone to some lengths to ensure that the court does not impose an order that would cause hardship on the defaulter or their family. This is a crucial aspect of the legislation. The Greens have some amendments that we believe will strengthen and reinforce those protections. To a large extent our amendments simply clarify the government’s intention that no financial order be made that is unfair or causes undue hardship. Part of the Greens’ concern to make this legislation as clear as possible is the understanding that, for some, a financial deduction order will be entirely appropriate. There will be some people who have not paid a fine yet who could have and simply should have. That is, they did have the money in the bank and the financial ability to pay. For this set of people deduction orders will be appropriate.
However, there is a different set of people who need to be protected by the legislation. These are the people who did not pay the fine because they could not, or they simply had too many other competing financial pressures. It would be inappropriate to have court order deductions for these people and the Greens amendments will make it clear that for these people community work orders are the best option.
I will talk in detail to the Greens’ amendments a little later on. For now it is enough to say we support the bill. It is a large improvement on the current situation where fine defaulters are sent to prison without an examination of other alternatives. In a nutshell, this is what the bill achieves. It ensures that all other options are examined before a defaulter is sent to prison to repay their fine. The bill today gives practical effect to the statement that prison should be a last resort. That is the substance of the bill.
I want to pick up very briefly on the comments Mrs Dunne made. The Greens share the concerns Mrs Dunne has raised about the quality of some explanatory statements that come before this place. This is not an issue that is isolated to this bill alone. It is an issue that we have had some concerns with. We certainly had quite a discussion in the party room on this issue recently. I note in this case that the exchange of information revealed that we needed to be convinced about the merits of this bill and then sort through some of the details. We absolutely needed to make sure we got it right. I have a view that we should have had that in the first place.
We are able to move forward on this bill today, having received that additional information—and we are pleased to have got to that—but I also note the statement Mrs Dunne made to the house this morning, which she reiterated in her comments a moment ago, that the scrutiny of bills committee will now be working on this matter on an ongoing basis. I guess the reason we are prepared to move forward today is that we believe this is a systemic issue. It is not isolated to this bill and we do not see a reason, having answered the questions and the concerns that we had, to delay this bill. Rather, we need to move forward on a process of improving some of the concerns around the nature of explanatory statements.