Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 3332 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
I suggested to Mr Stanhope at the time that he should bring the amendments back at a later time before the new package was to come into force and after some consultation and cooperation with the Government to see whether we could develop some sort of acceptable outcome. Mr Stanhope has brought forward this legislation for us to consider. The new package is due to come into effect from 1 January next year, so this is the last chance, I suppose, to incorporate these provisions into the package before it starts to operate to provide for a range of new options to be available to authorities to enforce fines imposed by the courts. I remind members that there are a large number of outstanding court-imposed fines which the Territory is owed - at least $1m, as I recall, when I last checked - and which we need to make a stronger effort to recover.
The Opposition's amendments incorporate the option of community service orders for fine defaulters. As such, there are two issues which are given rise to. One is the philosophical question of incorporating a community service order option in the process of enforcing a fine. The other is the issue of cost. I will touch first of all on the question of cost, because that issue was a fundamental problem on the last occasion. I want to emphasise that that is a fairly serious stumbling block to these amendments.
If we accept in principle that it is a good idea to have community service orders as an option before the stage at which we send someone to gaol - and I do not necessarily accept that it is - we also have to factor the cost into the present operation by Corrective Services of the community service order scheme. Members will recall me saying in the debate earlier this year that the Government's announced package of reforms was designed to produce an arrangement whereby the Territory recovered more money than it was previously recovering in unpaid fines. The saving we expected to make from this measure was, and still is, in outyears, $70,000 a year. We expect to have these measures recover for the Territory $70,000 above and beyond what we are recovering at the moment.
ACT Corrective Services have advised that a community service order scheme for fine defaulters would cost in the order of $107,000 per annum. They have also indicated that they consider that to be a conservative cost estimate. The effect of the legislation we would pass today, based on the assessment of ACT Corrective Services, would be to reverse the effect entirely of the amendments and the reforms which the Assembly passed back in June of this year. I ask members to ask themselves what it was that they were doing when they passed those amendments in June. Were they simply establishing a range of options for the sake of having a more comprehensive legislative regime? I would argue not.
The effect of the amendments was very simple and can be stated quite baldly as the capacity to recover more money for the Territory than was presently being recovered from fine defaulters. I suppose you might also say that a secondary goal was to add more respect to the regime of fine enforcement so that people felt that they ought to pay their bills whereas they would not have previously done so, given the very poor nature of the system. By far the most important objective of the system was to recover more money than we were previously recovering and than we are now recovering. If we pass these amendments today, we cancel that goal altogether. We might as well not have passed the reforms at all.