One catalyst for the new legislation was a report about the impacts of the current system on disadvantaged people written by Street Law, which provides a legal outreach service to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in the ACT. Street Law is a program of the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre. The new legislation provides people on low incomes with several options for the payment of traffic fines in line with the recommendations in Street Law’s report, including instalment plans, undertaking community work with an approved organisation, or undertaking a personal development order (for example, attending counselling). This flexibility provides options to the vulnerable and prevents the downward spiral of job loss and homelessness that can stem from a suspension of a person’s driver licence.
The new legislation reflects schemes that are working effectively in other Australian jurisdictions, particularly NSW, which has a similar development order scheme. The NSW scheme, introduced in 2010, has increased the revenue being collected by the government, while simultaneously reducing the rate of reoffending, improving the participation of the vulnerable, and engaging people in drug and alcohol mental health treatment.
It is worth noting that flexibility in the payment of fines is only available for traffic fines. More law reform is needed to extend flexibility to payment for other fines, such as fines for public space offences — being drunk in public or smoking in an unauthorised place — and other offences that are more likely to affect the most vulnerable people in the community.
KATIE FRASER is the Project Manager of Street Law.