Greens push for fairer payment system for fines

Michael Weaver 2 December 2019 35

The ACT Greens have tabled a Bill to have a fairer system for the payment of fines for offences such as littering. Photo: File.

People who receive a fine for simple offences such as not picking up after your dog, riding public transport without paying, or littering will be offered hardship payment options if the ACT Greens get a Bill to pass in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur tabled the Bill in the Assembly last Wednesday (27 November), the second last day of sitting for the year.

The Bill seeks to provide Canberrans with more payment options for infringement notices for simple offences where a fine can be issued and paid in lieu of going to court.

This excludes road traffic and parking offences, as these are dealt with in separate legislation.

If the Bill is supported, Canberrans who receive notices for simple offences could apply to:

  • pay their fine in instalments, rather than all at once
  • participate in approved community work or a social development plan in lieu of a fine
  • have an infringement penalty waived if the nature of the offence and the circumstances justify such a waiver (for example, if someone had forgotten to tap on prior to boarding the light rail and this was their first offence).

The Bill is similar to the previous work of Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan in 2012 when the ACT Government created a scheme to better enable people to pay off parking and traffic infringements, including through community work orders.

Ms Le Couteur said the measures ensured that the consequences were proportionate to the offence.

“If you’re someone who’s living on social security and you get a fine, it could mean that you can’t eat for a couple of weeks,” Ms Le Couteur said.

“The level of fines for people on Newstart are equal to about all their weekly income, so we think there needs to be a fairer system that recognises the circumstances of people and not just the thing they are being fined for.

“By implementing a ‘fairer fines’ system, we can avoid entrenching poverty in our city, while enforcing our laws and still changing behaviour.”

Between 1 July 2017 and October this year, 303 infringements that fell within the jurisdiction of Transport Canberra and City Services were not paid. Of these, 300 were related to offences under the Domestic Animals Act 2000. The other three were under the Litter Act 2004 and were cancelled after being reviewed, and replaced with formal warning notices.

“Unfortunately it is not clear why these fines are not being paid; however, it is fair to assume that in many cases it is because people cannot pay them,” Ms Le Couteur said.

“In not paying, they risk prosecution. For those people on low incomes who do pay a fine, this will almost certainly mean sacrificing spending on something else.”

Part of the arrangements includes financial counselling, which the CEO of Care Financial Counselling Service, Carmel Franklin, said was a great alternative for people who could not afford to pay their fines.

“The vast majority of people who get fines are able to pay them and do pay them, but a small minority don’t pay them because they can’t, and what often happens is that these are people who are already in vulnerable situations,” Ms Franklin said.

“They’ve already got a lot of other things happening in their lives, so to have a system that potentially exacerbates that financial stress is not a good system,” Ms Franklin said.

Ms Le Couteur said the Greens had long fought to have a fairer fines system in the ACT, and were hopeful the Bill would be passed when the Assembly sits again next year.

“I’m never confident of anything in the Assembly. However, I’m very hopeful that given the government has acknowledged this system has worked really well for traffic and parking offences, it’s a logical extension,” she said.

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35 Responses to Greens push for fairer payment system for fines
BlowMeDown BlowMeDown 8:25 pm 05 Dec 19

Fines should be based on net worth anyway, and the easiest way to do that is by hitting people with hours of community service. If you litter, the fine could be one hour picking up litter, etc. On the spot in most cases. Fit offenders with body cameras to monitor them.

    BlowMeDown BlowMeDown 8:30 pm 05 Dec 19

    … and lock their smart phones for the hour so they can’t do business as usual.

    Spiral Spiral 7:30 am 06 Dec 19

    I agree.

    This does seem to be the fairest form of punishment.

    There must be jobs such as picking up roadside rubbish, weeding, sorting recyclables, collecting roadkill kangaroos etc that could be done by people in such community service.

    Of course that should then be the default punishment, not just one for those who can’t pay the fine.

    Ten hours of picking up dead kangaroos should discourage litterers regardless of whether they are earning $500K a year or unemployed.

harcm harcm 9:51 am 04 Dec 19

You have to be unlucky to get caught doing anything wrong in this town. Our government is big on passing vast amounts of legislation but extremely poor at enforcing it. Most of the time people park wherever they want, drop rubbish on the ground, leave their bins out all week, tailgate and drive too fast, and have their dogs off lead and nothing happens.

    noid noid 9:27 pm 04 Dec 19

    Totally agree, I reported a crime one time just over a year ago with video evidence as well (with a very clear picture of the person) and made a statement. I was told there was not enough evidence to proceed……go figure!! The Labor/Green government are soft on crime from my experience. We are just lucky that the majority of Canberrans are law abiding.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:56 pm 03 Dec 19

“Canberrans who receive notices for simple offences could apply…..”

Presumably “could apply” means that this would not be an automatic entitlement, and could thus be denied to repeat offenders (which it should be).

rationalobserver rationalobserver 12:53 pm 03 Dec 19

If all fines should be based on income, should social security and other benefits also be aligned with income? Can’t have it both ways.

Spiral Spiral 11:33 am 03 Dec 19

The challenge is to make it fair and not just mindless class warfare.

I have friends who are on great incomes and would indeed find most fines trivial to pay.

I have friends who are on very low incomes and would find any fine difficult to pay.

On the other hand I have friends who are on low incomes and who have surprisingly large disposable incomes.

And I have friends who are on very good incomes but have very low disposable incomes due to mortgage payments, car payments etc. Some of those would struggle to pay these fines despite having $100,000+ incomes.

Of course it will be argued by some people that it is their fault they have such a low disposable income despite having a high paying job and they should make better decisions in their life.

Ironically that is the same argument made by people opposed to this change. After all it is the bad decisions that result in the fines and for some people, it is bad decisions earlier in their life that has resulted in them having a low income.

And of course it is that argument that is rejected by the people who are in favour of this change.

rationalobserver rationalobserver 11:31 am 03 Dec 19

Has anyone considered the cost of administering this overt complexity?
Since when has “living on social security” been a career choice?
Why this constant disincentive to work hard and succeed?

Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 10:02 am 03 Dec 19

People facing financial hardship have exactly the same opportunities NOT TO BREAK THE LAW as everyone else!!! Can't afford to pay a fine? Don't dump your garbage - it's that simple! It's perfectly possible to go about your everyday business and NOT do anything that attracts a fine. People need to stop playing victims and take responsibility for their own actions!

Nick James Nick James 9:53 am 03 Dec 19

How about 'don't do the wrong thing and you won't get a fine'?

Toni Brooks Toni Brooks 10:07 pm 02 Dec 19

I get the point they're trying to make and can see both sides of most of theses comments. If you break the law, there should be a consequence. Why not have them pick up trash for a few weekends or so if they can't afford it. I'd much rather see this as a consequence then paying a fee, but the funds are needed. It would also help clean up those areas people are talking about.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 12:00 am 03 Dec 19

    I like the idea of those who can't pay picking up rubbish, but some of those who are poor likely have mental issues and/or are on drugs, and would have difficulty being motivated to do anything, or even to turn up. Good idea for some though, and who knows, perhaps having something meaningful to do might help some of those with mental problems too.

Peggy Rose Peggy Rose 9:32 pm 02 Dec 19

Simple solution ,clean up after your dog and take your litter home and dispose of it ,obey the laws ,don’t speed drive carefully and no need to worry about paying money out easy 😀

Margus von Tihemetsa Margus von Tihemetsa 9:18 pm 02 Dec 19

ACT government should also set up rubbish bins around town and arrange rubbish to be cleaned up from the roads.

If you ever slow down in an 80 km/h zone e.g. on Hume Highway, Parkes Way, Tuggeranong Parkway etc, look at side of the road and you'll see tons of rubbish - everything from beer cans to old ironing boards, paint buckets, building debris and so forth.

    Alex Elliott Alex Elliott 10:14 pm 02 Dec 19

    Agreed - if there were more rubbish bins and dog pooh disposal bins in areas frequented by people it would definitely help.

    Tara Cheyne Tara Cheyne 9:14 am 03 Dec 19

    We are putting in more bins. It was committed in the budget. Dog poo bags and bins are being rolled out (several now in Belco). Highway clean ups do occur. High winds don't help though and result in lots being caught. I'd personally rather people didn't litter at all. There aren't a lot of excuses for things like paint buckets and building debris and it's a huge cost and effort for the Government to pick it up.

    Margus von Tihemetsa Margus von Tihemetsa 1:35 pm 03 Dec 19

    That’s all good news Tara.

    Also agree that people shouldn’t litter at the first place.

    Maybe it would be worth then to run a noticeable advertising campaign for events like Clean Up Australia Day and World Clean Up Day, just to create more awareness and to get people out there to pick up litter. We can even have a Clean Up Canberra Day. In any case it take a bit of funding and consistency to turn it into a recurring community event.

    I’ve been even considering getting out there on my own and picking up the trash along some of the highways. Logistically it’s a bit more challenging though as I don’t have suitable transport to take the trash to the tip/recycling station.

Alex Elliott Alex Elliott 7:49 pm 02 Dec 19

Fines for littering and not picking up after your dog should be greatly increased - there should be zero tolerance to this and more enforcement. It's not ok for people to treat community areas as their personal garbage bin.

If people did the right thing they wouldn't get a fine and therefore this wouldn't be an issue.

    Tara Cheyne Tara Cheyne 9:15 am 03 Dec 19

    Alex Elliott they were increased in October 👍

Julia Ross Julia Ross 7:25 pm 02 Dec 19

What happened to 'consequences' to your actions??

Olivia HB Olivia HB 6:40 pm 02 Dec 19

It should be on a sliding scale, wealthy people view fines as just the cost of doing something because it costs them nothing. That's what they do in Denmark and no one speeds because the fine is just enough to hurt no matter who you are.

    Pen e Lope Pen e Lope 7:00 pm 02 Dec 19

    Wow of course the Danes do that!? I suggested in when I was 20 (34 years ago) and was laughed at here.

    James Strang James Strang 10:28 am 03 Dec 19

    Olivia Angel Lindsay article notes this does not apply to speeding and traffic fines.

Ray Ez Ray Ez 6:39 pm 02 Dec 19

So all people are equal, except if you do the wrong thing, then no one is equal?

Tim Isaac Tim Isaac 5:44 pm 02 Dec 19

Quite shocked by the nastiness in some of these comments. It’s basic common sense that a fine for someone struggling financially is far more severe a penalty than for someone with plenty of cash. A decent society would take account of that.

    Dianna Nixon Dianna Nixon 5:54 pm 02 Dec 19

    Tim Hollo yes, kindness & compassion appears to be in short supply.

    Jill Lyall Jill Lyall 7:01 pm 02 Dec 19

    Imants Ezergailis they are also avoidable by the well off - so why not penalise them more meaningfully? Otherwise the lesson will be if you’re rich it matters not.

    Tuula Irene Tuula Irene 10:07 pm 02 Dec 19

    Tim Hollo a decent person would not throw rubbish on streets, or not pick up after their dogs mess, decency has nothing to do with whether rich or poor.

    Warwick Jay Warwick Jay 2:22 am 03 Dec 19

    Solution: progressive income tax...oh wait

    Tim Isaac Tim Isaac 7:44 am 03 Dec 19

    And the test of decency in a society is how we deal with those who act differently, not how we deal with those who fit in. The latter is easy. The former is more complex and nuanced, and needs to take account of all sorts of factors. Graded fines are a crucial part of that.

James Kozanecki James Kozanecki 5:20 pm 02 Dec 19

After Pay... but for the government

David Brown David Brown 5:18 pm 02 Dec 19

All fines should be based on gross income. Taxable income is no good because the big players don’t pay tax.

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