27 October 2023

ACT should consider income-based fines for minor offences, inquiry says

| Lizzie Waymouth
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Car blurred as it passes a 50km/h zone in Canberra.

The inquiry recommended an income-based approach to penalties such as speeding fines and parking infringements. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A Legislative Assembly inquiry has recommended the ACT should consider scrapping the current system of flat penalties and instead introduce income-based fines for minor offences such as speeding and parking violations.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety handed down its report into penalties for minor offences and vulnerable people this week, offering 13 recommendations.

The committee concluded that the current system of flat penalties for minor offences has a “disproportionate impact on vulnerable people”, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, young people, detainees, welfare recipients, the homeless and people with disabilities and/or mental health issues.

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“To the wealthiest people, fines are generally seen at best an inconvenience and at worst a part of the cost of doing business,” the committee’s deputy chair, Andrew Braddock, said.

“To the least fortunate and at-risk person, a fine can prevent them from putting food on the table, if they even have a table to begin with.

“Where an at-risk person fails to pay a fine, for whatever reason, they can potentially be dragged through the courts, causing greater stress and financial hardship,” he added.

“Despite its familiarity and apparent simplicity and transparency, the fine is a mode of punishment that hides complex penal and social realities and effects.

“Fines can perversely incentivise committing other crimes for the simple purpose of survival.

“Also shown by Robodebt, the threat of prosecution can drive people to pay fines even when legally and morally they are not required to do so.”

As well as introducing an income-based approach to penalties, the committee recommended the ACT Government explore a system of warning notices for a first offence instead of a fine or penalty and investigate introducing a cap on the total number of infringement notices or financial penalties from a single interaction with police to reduce financial impacts on vulnerable people.

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The inquiry received 13 submissions, including from the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), which has long advocated for an income-based approach for ACT Government fines, fees and other charges.

“The ACT Council for Social Service told the committee that there are an estimated 38,300 Canberrans living in poverty, including approximately 9000 children,” the report said.

“[ACTCOSS] said it is important to prevent a situation where an unaffordable penalty can end up resulting in lifelong harms as a result of that person falling into the criminal justice system rather than dealing with the underlying issues causing the behaviours.”

The ACT Human Rights Council also told the inquiry that, under the current system of infringement notices, authorised officers imposing a penalty do not have any discretion to take into account factors such as the seriousness of the offence or any mitigating circumstances.

It said it was a “flawed assumption” that every recipient of a criminal infringement notice would be capable of paying a fine.

“For some, the imposition of such fines will instead compound significant hardship and lead to flow-on consequences.”

The Justice Reform Initiative recommended introducing a “sliding scale” for infringement notice fines based on an individual’s ability to pay, which could be based on the ‘day fine’ structure used in a number of European countries. Under this model, fines are determined based on a formula where the seriousness of the offence is indexed to the offender’s average daily income or the surplus remaining after daily expenses and expressed according to the number of days it would take the offender to pay off the fine.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury told the inquiry that while he was interested in income-based penalties, access to reliable income data was the main barrier due to privacy issues and because the ACT Government does not have the legislative power to access taxation data held by the Commonwealth Government.

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William Newby10:05 pm 29 Oct 23

Tried and failed elsewhere in the world, many uber wealthy don’t have an income nor do they pay income tax. What about all the wealthy pensions here on their defined benefits superannuation, will they have to declare all earnings and all wealth of will they be $10 tickets also.
The ACT is determined to crush the working middle class while giving all beneficiaries a free ride and one with zero consequences.

If the government was actually interested in “fairness” in this area, there would be no fines at all bit rather the simple points based system.

Equal for everyone, same deterrence factor.

Oh, I forgot. Government relies too much on the revenue created through every increasing fines, so will never actually make the sensible choice.

Incidental Tourist8:02 pm 29 Oct 23

Robodebt mark 2 for working class.

Fines based on income are problematic because the deficit driven, tram obsessed, rates dependent, high taxing, audit failing, ideological ACT government has worked out it doesn’t know what people earn. Rats says Rattenbury. So how about make fines dependent on things it does know. Like the more you pay in rates, linked to your land value, the more you pay in parking and traffic fines. But not everyone owns a house and speeding P-platers mostly still live with M&D. Ok, then the richer the suburb you live or rent in the more you pay. Or the more you paid for your car as determined by the stamp duty the higher your fine. No idea is too bizarre for our ACT government. You get the government you voted for and deserve.

If this happens we would get far more fines. $10 fines for average people and $10,000 fines for workers. This just becomes a way to tax the rich while looking like rates didn’t decrease. The problem is that this government is addicted to spending and wasting money.

If you want a property that is above average you will be taxed for having the pleasure.

A tired government with Ministers who don’t bother getting out of bed unless a new allowance from fines is on the table

They have mastered the art of 51%

Tom Worthington9:06 am 29 Oct 23

Income-based fines for the wealthy as well. Make the fines large enough to have a deterrent effect.

So let me get this right, a proposal for a person on an income of $150k with a $1m mortgage, and doing it tough under this rotten government, gets a bigger fine than a person on a $25k part time income, who lives with their parents and pays no rent or food, but they just so happen to have a car supplied by their millionaire parents

So under the Commonwealth Tax Administration Act, I only have to declare my income to the ATO. The ACT government would have to get that legislation changed….Good luck

GrumpyGrandpa8:06 pm 28 Oct 23

Hi Bulldog,
I think this an ideologial brian-fart.

I’m retired and not required to lodge a tax return. Fines would be pretty cheap for me if they were based on income.😄

I imagine they would issue a fine, that could be discounted, should you elect to provide your Notice of Assessment/last payslip or something. Alternatively, maybe you’d be exempt or entitled to a discounted fine if you produce a Centrelink Pension or Low Income Health Care Card?

No matter how you look at it, it’d be a shambles.

Either you understand that the purpose of fines is meant to act as both a punishment for past behaviour AND a deterrent to future misbehavior, or you don’t.

no and I don’t want the ACT Govt to have access to my income data. they don’t know how to manage the money I provide to them already through rates.

this proposal totally ignores individual circumstances and is not necessary.

do the crime, pay the penalty.

How about fines for stupid policy decisions

And yet, if you make antisocial behaviour cost-free, you’re going to get more antisocial behaviour. I guess it’s a question of how much that effect will play with regard to things like speeding and parking offences.

Capital Retro5:50 pm 27 Oct 23

If adopted, the bureaucratic resources required to run this flawed scheme will cost more than can be collected.

I may be missing something but how can a “detained person” get a fine relating to a motor vehicle (speeding or parking).

I’d suggest they got the fines, then got locked up. Those individuals get to pay the fines off at $110 a day whilst they are incarcerated though, so not really the right group to single out…

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