16 May 2023

Russian embassy has 15 years of unpaid traffic fines

| Chris Johnson
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Car blurred as it passes a 50km/h zone in Canberra.

Some foreign diplomats won’t pay traffic infringement notices. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Russian diplomats owe Australia almost $90,000 in traffic and parking fines they are refusing to pay, with some infringements issued as far back as 2007.

There is slim chance the hundreds of overdue tickets, many issued in Canberra, will ever be paid.

The rules of diplomatic immunity mean foreign officials in Australia cannot be pursued through the legal system for overdue traffic infringements.

All they can do is repeatedly ask the embassies involved to ensure their staff pay the fines issued to them.

It leaves the door open for foreign governments to flout local traffic laws and ignore any penalties being sought.

While most foreign embassies place strict rules on their staff to ensure local laws – including traffic and parking laws – are obeyed, some have a more relaxed approach and appear happy for their employees to ignore infringement notices.

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According to Freedom of Information documents obtained by Guardian Australia, Russian diplomats have overtaken Saudi Arabian diplomats for the number of unpaid fines.

The Saudi’s backlog of fines from recent years appears to have been cleared, while Russia’s continues to pile up.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations insists that while foreign diplomats have immunity, they must respect local laws.

The convention is the only real tool Australian officials can use to help recover payment from overdue fines.

According to the documents, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has repeatedly asked the Russian embassy to adhere to the convention.

DFAT’s chief of protocol Ian McConville wrote to Russian ambassador Alexy Pavlovsky late last year asking that the fines be paid.

According to The Guardian, the ambassador was also warned that FOI requests could make the enormity of the infringement backlog known publicly.

“As you are aware, road safety is a matter of significant community concern in Australia,” Mr McConville wrote.

“We would also appreciate it if you could remind staff and their dependents of their responsibility under article 41.1 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to respect Australia’s laws and regulations.”

The Russian embassy has not commented on the issue, but other foreign missions located in the nation’s capital are concerned that locals will tar all diplomats with the same brush.

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One head of mission spoke to Region on the assurance of anonymity.

“Most of us obey the rules because we are from law-abiding countries ourselves,” they said.

“It does not paint a nice picture of diplomacy if local laws are ignored.

“We would hope that the Australian community does not place us all in the same basket.”

But while it appears Russia is the worst offender, the report lists a host of other foreign embassies that have recently had DFAT letters issued to them over (much smaller sums of) unpaid traffic infringements, including the UK and the USA.

ACT road authorities can issue fines and, in collaboration with DFAT, suspend the licences of drivers from the diplomatic corps who have racked up too many demerit points or have unpaid fines.

But that is as far as their power reaches.

In the end, getting traffic fines paid comes down to the mindset of the diplomats and the embassies employing them and whether they think local rules should apply to them.

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So just like Canberra tradies not declaring who was driving when their ute is caught by a speed camera. So they get no points, pay the multiple of the fine, load customer bills and just speed on.

Without wanting to get into a debate on Vladimir Putin and his tragic and illegal invasion of Ukraine, I have a bit of a soft spot for the Russky’s! The crushing setbacks in the country’s history, the tragedy and corruption of its leadership and the poverty and toughness of its people’s lives. A Russian economy continually stuck between recession and stagnation!
Every so many years someone in the media goes on a fishing expedition using traffic infringements to shame one of our embassies. From memory, I think the Saudis were the last.
I remember working for a courier company many years back. Our foreign customers from the embassies were an absolute delight to work for and the Russky’s were some of our most loveable! We could always be guaranteed that any parcel was delivered to some of the most inhospitable and remote regions of Russia!
Whole groups of Russian men from the Embassy used to turn up in the office, out of the blue at any time of the day looking frosty and stern. One of my colleagues told me that his family lived in Russia for a number of years and used Vodka as an anti-freeze on their car, horrifying his Russian friends.
I am sure there are many people out there getting all worked up over this $90,000 debt incurred by Russian Embassy staff. Out of sorts and looking to the government and Andrew Barr to get out there and do something!
I look at the corruption and the huge debt we inherited from the Morrison government, the plans for the stage 3 tax cuts which were implemented by the Liberal government and which Labor intends to pursue, and the funding for the Tasmanian stadium to name a few.
I just can’t seem to get upset over this debt!

@Jack D
I’m pleased that the article afforded you a stroll down memory lane.

However, you’ve obviously never taken a mobility-challenged passenger (entitled to use a disabled car park) to a shopping centre only to find one of the clearly marked, disabled car parks, has been occupied by an ignoramus in a DC-plated car. No permit, they were just too lazy to find a legitimate car park – knowing that even if they did get a fine they won’t have to pay it.

It’s not the debt – it’s the principle. Such a lack of consideration for others certainly gets me upset.

Bob the impala6:26 pm 17 May 23

Jack D., nice to know your talents extend to whatabouting the Russian invasion of Ukraine with an AFL stadium in Tasmania.

I can sympathise with you JustSaying. However, it is easy to generalise! There are many ignoramuses out there, not only those driving foreign DC marked cars. Those people of all nationalities and walks of life who flout road rules and those able bodied people who take advantage of clearly marked disabled car parks.
I am also well aware that there is rorting with the issuing of disabled parking permits.
I remember a work colleague laughing and telling me how her sister, who didn’t have an incapacity was able to obtain a disability parking permit on an ongoing basis from her doctor!

@Jack D
At least those non-DC ingnoramuses can be pursued for non-payment of the fine. And the ‘rorting’ is hardly relevant – that’s an entirely different matter.

I wonder if there are outstanding fines, similar in nature, for Aussie diplomatic missions overseas? Perhaps there’s a RiotACT-er who has DFAT ‘overseas posting’ experience who could shed some light.

Australians serving in diplomatic missions overseas share the same immunity as any foreign mission serving in Australia and technically are immune from all local laws. The difference is that the Australian Government plays by the rules and ensures that staff are accountable for local traffic and other regulatory and administrative rules.

When it comes to criminal matters revocation of immunity is decided on a case-by-case basis.

@Zhi Goh
Thank you for the clarification, Zhi. I had hoped that there would be pressure on Aussie diplomats to pay fines, etc … but it’s good to see that the Oz govt policy is to ensure staff posted overseas do so.

DFAT instructs staff to pay fines should you receive them, most countries however don’t even bother to send out fines in the mail, parking tickets the same, all vehicles with CD plates pretty much get a free pass.
I have been flashed by cameras plenty of times (overseas) and never seen anything in the mail. The same with highway police they just wave you on, stopping or questioning a diplomat or a car with CD plates can create a world of pain for any front-line police officer so they generally avoid you.
Some countries are better than others at respecting these conditions when living in a host country. Culturally some countries/posted officials really think they are rock stars and behave as such, for other countries they are very poor and don’t get paid a lot to be here, covering these fines could be a big deal to them.

According to the Vienna convention, to which Australia is a signatory, diplomats are exempt from paying such fines. And besides there should be no means by which you are able to ascertain who has or hasn’t paid parking fines. I’m sure there are other diplomatic missions that choose not to pay.

@Keith Lewis
“And besides there should be no means by which you are able to ascertain who has or hasn’t paid parking fines”
The DC plate with the Russian code on it could possibly give a clue as to who owns the vehicle, Keith … and not too difficult to run a query against individual license plates for unpaid fines.

” I’m sure there are other diplomatic missions that choose not to pay”
Without doubt, however, the article is merely highlighting the fact that the Russians lead the pack in unpaid fines.

Bob the impala3:10 pm 17 May 23

Keith Lewis, please enlighten me on the positive section of the Vienna Convention which says “diplomats are exempt from paying such fines”?

As already stated in the text above, Article 41 says:
“it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State.”
International conventions say rather that we are not in a position to prosecute law-breaking, although we can eject a person in question (Article 43(b))

Our laws include fines for infractions, including around parking, speeding, running red lights (all of which I have seen myself). Non-payers thus break the Vienna Convention. There is just little we can do about it on a national basis other than add to our understanding of their [dis-]respect for rule of law.

Bob the impala6:23 pm 17 May 23

Back in the real world, Futureproof, a better example would be the boy on a bike killed in Britain by a person allegedly on the wrong side of the road, which person was whisked back to the USA to avoid charges. Not conspiratorially, I can see circumstances in which her protection was not about her.


Small misdemeanours such as speeding fines, and parking tickets are to be paid by the posted officer. Serious crimes are covered under the convention but each country can make their own ruling as to wether the posted officer or accompanying family member should face the court in that host country.

DFAT instructs staff to pay fines should you receive them, most countries however don’t even bother to send out fines in the mail, parking tickets the same, all vehicles with CD plates pretty much get a free pass.

Some countries recognise this privilege and behave appropriately while other nations see it as an opportunity to run wild, some even rack up bills, store credit and skip town without paying their rent at the end of their posting.

Peter Stanley1:17 pm 17 May 23

This is atrocious, though we have Buckley’s chance of getting them to cough up. Just as we have no chance of resisting the appalling Americanism of ‘way more’. What happened to the perfectly serviceable (Australian/British) ‘far more’?

Perhaps some diplomatic staff don’t quite grasp the concept that diplomacy means staying on the good side of your host country and its citizenry.

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