29 November 2018

Fines to match incomes? ACT Government to investigate 'fairer' system

| Ian Bushnell
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The fine should reflect one’s income, say the Greens.

In an Australian first, a fines system based on income is to be investigated by the ACT Government after the Legislative Assembly supported a motion from the Greens.

The motion calling on the Assembly to investigate the potential for an income-based fines system such as that used in Finland was surprisingly carried on the voices, and the Government will now have to report back on how such a system would operate in the ACT.

The Greens say an income-based system will ensure that those on low incomes are not disproportionately punished for low-level traffic and parking infringements.

Greens Treasury spokesperson Caroline Le Couteur said that in 2017, of the 85,051 parking fines issued, 88 per cent were paid on time; while, of the 436 fines issued for driving an unregistered vehicle, only 13 per cent were paid on time.

“Unfortunately it is unclear as to why a person may not pay their fine, as this information is not collected. However, this points towards a system where financial penalties are disproportionately affecting people already struggling to pay their bills,” she said.

She said that for a person on $5000 a week, a $500 fine is irrelevant but a fine equal to your weekly wage was unfair.

“We want to change behaviour not force people into poverty,” she said.

Ms Le Couteur said the Government could do things to make the fines system fairer so people did not have to forgo food and paying the rent.

She said not being able to pay fines could spiral people into further hardship.

A Greens spokesperson said the Government was now obliged to come back to the Assembly with a concrete proposal, which could be implemented as a two-year pilot program.


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justin heywood8:16 am 02 Dec 18

A simplistic and impractical answer to a non-problem, designed to appeal to stir up a bit of class envy whilst claiming the high moral ground.

Demagoguery. The fatal flaw in our democracy.

I think everyone should pay the same penalty. What about adjusting the price of registration based on income instead.

What do you define as “income”? Would you charge a business higher rego? They already pay a higher level compared to private owners. It could be argued those on higher incomes are contributing more value to society and should get a discount. I agree with Grimm and Spiral.

Everyone is equal.
But some are more equal than others.
Just ask a green.

Surely the statistics show younger and lower income people incur fines and lose their licence more often than older and higher income earners? So this system is punishing a more responsible group of drivers with bigger fines, to take the pressure off others.

By my calculations, this means that there were roughly 10,000 unpaid parking fines in 2017.
The author makes the assumption that this is due to offender being incapable of paying their fine(s) due to their low income.
With no background facts to support my case, I’d hazard a guess that these fines are unpaid because the offender doesn’t want to pay them. I wonder what proportion of these unpaid fines were incurred by vehicles bearing number plates beginning with “DC”.

Blen_Carmichael1:30 pm 30 Nov 18

This is comical in more ways than one. How does the ACT Government propose to compel motorists to disclose their income? Better still, does Le Couteur really think she can lawfully compel the Tax Office to provide that information to the ACT Government?

Differing punishments for the same offences? Sounds an awful lot like inciting more class warfare.

Income is an extremely bad way of measuring paying ability. I know plenty of people who earn over 100K who would struggle to pay a $500 fine because their income is being eaten up by their mortgage, car payment, kids braces, kids sports etc.

And I know people who are “on paper” on very low incomes but who thanks to government housing and other concessions combined with off the books income (such as house cleaning) have sufficient money to go on a cruise or two a year and multiple concert tickets.

Obviously the people on 100K+ could sell up and rent in cheaper places, but cheap old cars, take their kids out of sports etc, but for whatever reason, people on high incomes do not always have lots of disposable income.

In reality this isn’t a step towards fairness but an attack on middle Australia, the cash cow that governments like to use to pay for their pipe dreams.

Mike of Canberra10:39 am 30 Nov 18

Yet another la la land proposal from this hubristic Labor/Greens government. Whatever happened to the principle of equality before the law? After all, the fines are meant to reflect the seriousness of the offence, not the offender’s capacity to pay. Are we now meant to let low income earners off lightly compared with others when it comes to potentially deadly practices such as texting while driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, running red lights, not stopping at pedestrian crossings etc?

As for the implication that the high proportion of unpaid fines for driving an unregistered vehicle reflects relative income, I agree with Capital Retro that this potentially puts the rest of us, or at least hard-hit tax, rates and other fee payers at risk. An unregistered vehicle lacks third party insurance coverage and thus, if it causes serious injury to someone, the legal position on compensation is clouded to say the least. As Capital Retro points out, it will usually mean that the rest of us will end up wearing the cost via the Nominal Defendant.

Let’s call a spade a spade here. While a proportion of those who find it difficult to pay fines would be low paid working people, I would suspect the vast majority of the offenders in question would be in some way welfare dependent. Such people enjoy decent concessions, paid for by the rest of us, on registration and licence costs as well as public housing rents (many pay only $5 per week) and public transport fares. In the face of this, if they cannot afford to register a vehicle and pay traffic fines, they should steer away from vehicle ownership. Instead, they should start relying on public transport, which our government ensures us is world class and accessible to everyone.

Well said. I haven’t any sort of fine in many years because I know a very harsh financial deterrent is there. That’s the system! The responsibilities of driving are equal for everyone, so too should be the consequences.

Capital Retro9:26 am 30 Nov 18

I think that the proposal should exclude concessions for fines involving unregistered vehicles. In fact, fines for this offence should be increased with arrest and prison mandatory because if third party injuries arise from an accident involving an unregistered vehicle, the Nominal Defendant (taxpayer) has to underwrite the compensation.

Offering concessions will only encourage more people to drive unregistered vehicles.

And “income” has to be clearly defined.

I agree with your comments re unregistered vehicles. Concessions should not be included for this. But I do agree that for many other offences the fine should be based on income. I have only ever had two parking fines and one speeding. One parking fine I got when unloading heavy equipment for a job and the other (along with a long line of parked vehicles) for a no-parking sign that wasn’t visible, being hidden by vegetation; plus the cars were all well of the side of the road. A country town, and I have no idea why parking wasn’t allowed there, as it was good safe parking. Safer than the other side of the road, where parking was allowed. My one speeding fine, I was caught going 65kms in a 60km zone, just before the 100km sign.

This isn’t “fairer”, it’s inherently unfair.

If politicians are so worried about the financial and social effects of their fines, I’ve got a solution.

Don’t give monetary fines.

Capital Retro5:57 pm 30 Nov 18

Something like weekend detention? I would support that.

Spending weekends picking up rubbish and dead kangaroos from roads would be a good punishment.

make them write it out 100 times
(tongue firmly in cheek)

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