ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

ACTCOSS supports call for review of fines compliance and enforcement system

24 March 2022

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has today welcomed Andrew Braddock MLA’s calls for the ACT Government to perform a cost/benefit analysis for the current compliance and enforcement system for those who fail to pay fines for minor transgressions. The motion, presented in the Legislative Assembly today, also calls for canvassing alternative options to compliance that ensure equity, reduce administrative burden and encourage greater commitment to social responsibility.

ACTCOSS has been calling for the ACT Government to introduce an income-based approach to ACT Government fines, fees and other charges to ensure that penalties are not regressive, imposing a disproportionate penalty on people living on low incomes and posing a risk of deepening and/or widening social and economic disadvantage.

ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell said: “Flat rate fines impose greater punishment on people with low incomes than high income earners. That means fines disproportionately affect people who already face disadvantage.

“Around 40,000 Canberrans live in low-income households and many of them have told us that they must compromise on food, gas and electricity, clothing and education expenses and make some really tough choices between basics such as medicine or keeping the car running.

“Fines can be the final straw for some people and being unable to pay can spiral into crisis and put them into contact with the justice system which can cause life-long harm,” Dr Campbell said.

Many of the ACT Government’s fees and fines relate to transport, parking and city services, such as littering. These can play an important role in terms of road safety, cost recovery, urban amenity, and public health and safety. The revenue raised also contributes to funding essential community services and infrastructure.

ACTCOSS welcomed improvements made by legislation introduced by former Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur in 2020 which enabled payment plans and community service in place of fines. However, this relies on the availability of community service programs, which have been scarce during COVID-19.

Dr Campbell continued: “Economic hardship has been increasing in the community throughout COVID-19, but especially over the last month as the cost of living has skyrocketed.

“Directing people to the justice system for non-payment of fines would impact some of the most vulnerable Canberrans, including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, people experiencing homelessness, people on low incomes and those already tangled in the justice system.

“Ensuring fair and equitable fines would reduce interactions with the justice system and reduce the significant personal and social costs that come with those interactions. Using the justice system to respond to disadvantage isn’t helpful for anyone and we should investigate alternative options wherever possible.” Dr Campbell concluded.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations. Follow us @ACTCOSS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617.