Page 2773 - Week 09 - Thursday, 8 August 2013

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As I mentioned, increasing the penalty units essentially increases the maximum penalty available, but it does not increase the amount for infringement notice penalties. If infringement notice penalties are increased, this will be done later through regulation. At this time I think it is important for me to put my position on the record, which is that I believe at this time it would be inappropriate for the government to make corresponding increases to infringement notice penalties through these regulations.

This is especially so given the recommendations in 2012 from the Targeted Assistance Strategy Panel. The panel is an expert group drawn from the ACT community which reported on strategies to help support Canberrans facing financial pressures. Their report provides recommendations for the government to provide targeted assistance to those in need. The panel was chaired by the Reverend Gordon Ramsay.

One of the recommendations of the main report asked the government to make available flexible payment options for ACT government fees and fines. This was a significant part of the report. In fact, the report included an entire appendix on this topic with several recommendations. The government is still working to implement the recommendations in relation to all government fees and fines.

One key aspect, however, has been completed. This is the new flexible payment system for traffic and parking infringements. It has now come into effect, starting in May this year. It sets up options for extensions of time to pay, payment by instalment, work and development orders and the possibility of waivers of penalties. It ensures that a once-inflexible system now takes special account of people who are at a special disadvantage or who might be facing severe hardship.

This was achieved through legislation introduced by the ACT Greens last year. The legislation was passed with the support of the Labor Party. I think it is a shame the Liberal Party did not support this new scheme and that they declared a position that they did not support any kind of waiver. I do worry that they will not support future reforms to mitigate hardship that Canberrans may face when faced with fines or fees. I worry also that they would have the government never entertain the idea of a waiver. What about people who are, for example, severely disabled or even homeless?

Given that the fees and fines that are of concern to the Targeted Assistance Strategy Panel are largely made up of the infringement notice penalties, my suggestion is that the government waits before it increases any infringement penalty fines through regulation, despite the fact that penalty units have increased.

I did write to Mr Corbell and Ms Gallagher asking that they consider this approach and that they wait until they have done further work on the recommendation in the Targeted Assistance Strategy Panel before increasing infringement notice penalties. This does not need to be the case for traffic fines obviously, as a flexible payment system is now in place.

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