Monetary Penalties Enforcement Bill fails to tackle issues of disadvantage & debt
27th Sep 2020
The Monetary Penalties Enforcement Amendment Bill 2020 is a missed opportunity to address issues facing Tasmanians experiencing extreme hardship and should not be allowed to pass in its current form, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) in a submission on the Bill which the Attorney-General Elise Archer has released for public comment.
“The Bill is not problematic in a technical sense but it should include provisions, along the lines of those included in NSW and WA legislation, to allow vulnerable people to clear outstanding fines by engaging in activities, treatment or work rather than by paying money,” said Mr Greg Barns SC, spokesperson for the ALA. “A failure to do so will merely perpetuate the existing difficulties for already vulnerable people.
“The Bill represents another missed opportunity by government to reduce reliance on fines and other monetary penalties which discriminate against low income earners and represent a barrier to rehabilitation.”
Tasmanians are issued some $15 million worth of fines each year.
“For most people court fines and penalty notices work as a disincentive for certain behaviours but do not cause serious stress or have a significant impact on the individual’s life,” said Mr Barns SC. “However, for some very disadvantaged people the impact of fine debt can be disproportionately negative and this has long-term consequences.
“For example, a driver’s licence can be cancelled due to fine debt, resulting in barriers to obtaining employment and meeting important health and other appointments. Lawyers often find that our clients have debts of such magnitude that they cannot be serviced even when payment arrangements are in place.
“Legislation in WA and NSW addresses these issues by allowing eligible people to clear fines by participating in medical, mental health or drug and alcohol treatment; financial counselling; vocational, educational or life skills courses; or voluntary work.
“The Tasmanian Bill does not address this possibility. It has missed an opportunity to adopt recent reforms implemented in other states and address the detrimental impacts of monetary penalty debts on low income earners.
“We hope the Attorney-General takes up the opportunity to ensure this Bill delivers real reform.”