The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has today welcomed the ACT Legislative Assembly’s call for close consultation with the community sector to ensure that people on low incomes are not unfairly impacted by the imposition of fines.
A report published by the Planning, Transport and City Services Standing Committee on the impact of revised speed limits in Civic included a recommendation that the ACT Government consult with Care Incorporated, Canberra Community Law, Legal Aid and ACTCOSS to explore grounds to waive traffic fines for vulnerable people.
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.
Dr Emma Campbell, ACTCOSS CEO said: “A flat rate fine imposes greater punishment on a person with a low income than it does on high income earners. That means fines disproportionately affect people who already face disadvantage.”
Around 40,000 Canberrans in the ACT live in low-income households. They are among Australia’s most disadvantaged.
Dr Campbell said: “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.
“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.”
Some improvements were made by legislation introduced by Caroline Le Couteur in 2020 which enables payment plans and community services in place of fines.
However, the pandemic has worsened the situation for people on low incomes who receive fines. Community service programs have been cut due to COVID-19 restrictions and there has been an increased level of economic hardship in the community, making payment of fines difficult and their impact on people on low incomes much greater.
Dr Campbell said: “In the short term, we need to address how COVID-19 has exacerbated the unfair impact of fines on people on low incomes. However, we welcome opportunities for a discussion on the fairness of fines and eliminating the disproportionate effects of fines on the most disadvantaged. ACTCOSS calls on the ACT Government to take this opportunity to explore the possibility of a fine system that is based on income and does not further entrench poverty,” Dr Campbell concluded.
Read the Standing Committee’s report here.