1 February 2022

Probing the polls: eucalypts in our streets and income-based fines

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Signage showing the new 40km/h zones in Canberra.

The 40km/h zones in Civic trapped many motorists last year. Photo: Supplied.

A summer of wild weather has had dramatic consequences for many Canberra streets (and some roofs) after repeated storms and heavy rain brought down huge limbs and whole trees across a wide swathe of the city.

Many of Canberra’s post-war streetscapes, particularly in Belconnen, are eucalypts, and there’s a fierce debate over whether the native species should be planted near houses, cars and people.

We asked: Are eucalypts suitable street trees? A total of 1545 people voted.

Your options for voting were: No, there are better choices for suburban streets. This received 67 per cent of the total or 1035 votes. Alternatively, you could vote Yes, they’re native trees, we need to live with them. This received 33 per cent of the total, or 510 votes.

This week, we’re wondering whether you think fines should be proportional to your income? The suggestion comes from the ACT Council of Social Services, following protests against the very large number of fines issued when the central area of Civic became a 40 km/h zone.

More than 20,000 drivers were caught speeding in a two-week trial period in June last year before fines started being issued, and on the first day of enforcement, more than 1200 drivers were caught speeding.

The ACT Legislative Assembly’s Planning, Transport and City Services Committee recommended waivers should be considered only in instances where fines had resulted in financial hardship, asking the government to consider waiving fines and demerit points for the month of July last year.

According to ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell, fines issued at flat rates don’t have the same effect on high-income earners as they do on low-income earners, with the latter being “disproportionately and unfairly impacted”.

Around 40,000 people in the ACT live in low-income households.

READ ALSO Calls for income-based approach to fines as inquiry recommends waivers for vulnerable motorists

“People on low incomes and income support have told us that they already have to compromise on food, gas and electricity, clothing and education expenses and make tough choices between basics such as a trip to the dentist or keeping the car on the road,” Dr Campbell said.

“A fine can be the final straw for some families and individuals, creating a financial situation that spirals into crisis or even puts them at risk of contact with the criminal justice system.”

This prompted fierce debate among readers.

“The message is clear,” Tim wrote. “‘Speed kills’ only if you have a middle to upper income – it’s totally safe for low-income earners to drive as fast as they want.”

Tristian suggested an easier solution: “Use public transport if you are unable to control your speed. Safe for yourself, safe for the community and safe for your budgets.”

Joe disagreed, asking: “So does this mean – that if someone earns less, we should reduce the cost of living? Wake up!”

Our question this week is:

Should traffic fines be income-based?

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Fines such as speeding and parking are completely avoidable if you do the right thing. The 40km zone in Civic was well advertised and the signage was quite obvious if you knew to look out for it.

This is sorely missing the inverse: Why should these fines be very easily shrugged off for the rich? Couple hundred bucks is the cause of a crummy day but little else to many, whereas it could drive someone in poverty to homelessness. It also does not mention that various countries already do this to some extent, eg Finland.
Moralising about how people just shouldn’t speed (etc) in the first place ignores that, for one, accidents happen, and furthermore that these people are still people who don’t deserve to have their lives ruined. Punishment should be proportional, and that includes equalising the impact fines have on people’s lives whether rich or poor.

A sliding scale of penalties would make sense unless everyone had equal opportunity to avoid a fine in the first place….oh wait…they do.

I agree that fines impose a greater burden on the most needy, however, fines are imposed when an offence is committed and therefore, as in the criminal court, there should be no distinction based on income. This also be a nightmare for implementation. As an aside, the speed limit should never have been reduced. It is just another mechanism for raising revenue.

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