Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (25 June) . . Page.. 1047 ..
MS TUCKER (12.15): The Greens will be supporting this legislation, although I foreshadow that I will be supporting Mr Stanhope's amendments, as I understand them. My concern is that possibly there will be some people who will not pay their fines, they will lose their licence and they will then drive anyway. This is the advice that I have been given from people who work with such people. I would be interested to see some kind of evaluation of that occurrence because it would mean this would not necessarily be working as the person would be guilty of a greater offence. I am very pleased to see that Mr Stanhope has put in an opportunity for community service orders, because I support what everyone else in this place has said, namely, if we can avoid people going to prison, that has to be of benefit. I am also pleased that Mr Stanhope has dealt with the issue of children. I will be supporting that. Generally, I think the intention of the legislation is good. Apart from the reservation that I have already spoken about, I support it wholeheartedly, with Mr Stanhope's amendments.
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (12.17), in reply: Mr Speaker, I thank members for their support for this legislation. It is pretty important legislation when you consider that at the moment - at least, as of April this year - in excess of $1m is outstanding in court-imposed fines which have not been collected across the Territory. In addition to that, something like $3m for traffic and parking infringements has not been paid. So there is a bill of probably well in excess of $4m owed to the community, the taxpayer, which is sitting in the pockets of people who have defaulted on their responsibilities and that has not been collected. There are a whole variety of reasons why that money has not been collected. Some of them have to do with the resources necessary to collect it and some of them have to do with the difficulty in actually enforcing decisions made by courts and infringement notices generally. This package of legislation goes, I believe, some way towards remedying the problem which we have encountered in being able to enforce decisions made by our courts to impose fines.
Mr Speaker, at the moment, essentially, the court imposes a fine, but the options for the Magistrates Court to enforce those fines are quite limited. In the case of the Supreme Court, they are even more limited. In fact, there is effectively no default mechanism at all available to the Supreme Court. The result is that in some quarters the enforcement capacity is taken as being fairly much a joke. People take the view in some cases, I am advised, that it is simply not necessary to pay moneys that are owing in that way. After this legislation is enacted and becomes effective in the Territory, those people will have to think again. I hope that we are able to move effectively to recover as much of that $4m as possible, although obviously some time has passed since some of those impositions by way of a fine or infringement notice. It is possible some people may have moved away or died or be otherwise beyond the reach of the law.
Mr Speaker, as members will note, the legislation initially covers fine default in respect of court-imposed fines. We want to bed down the system in respect of court-imposed fines and then move on to apply the legislation to the larger area of unpaid fines in respect of traffic and parking infringement notices. Mr Stanhope, in the course of his remarks, made some comments about the need to avoid prison. I accept the comments he has made. I certainly think that sentencing someone to prison for failing to pay a fine is a quite ineffective way of dealing with a situation where someone is unable to pay a fine or to meet a financial obligation of some sort.