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Thursday, 25 November 2010
Page: 3881

Mr HUSIC (6:37 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Service and Execution of Process Amendment (Interstate Fine Enforcement) Bill 2010 because the time has well and truly come to reform a number of aspects of this system as states and territories experience their own problems with the unintended consequence—if I may describe it that way—of enforcement. My mind stretches back to some of the terrible incidents that stemmed from enforcement.

Specifically, I am reminded of an incident that occurred in 1987 involving New South Wales resident Jamie Partlic, who was sent to Long Bay Prison because he had failed to pay a series of parking fines. He was sentenced to four days imprisonment. While serving his time he was assaulted. The assault was truly devastating. It left him in a coma and with permanent brain damage. All this was as a result of failing to pay parking fines. I remember at the time it triggered a wave of public and media interest in the way governments manage fine enforcement and governments were also mindful of court cases reminding prison authorities of their obligation of care.

While I wish to stress that I do not condone the failure to pay fines, we are expected to fulfil our responsibilities and obligations as citizens. However, there should be a wiser way to ensure that these obligations are fulfilled at a cost that does not exact such a heavy personal toll on people’s wellbeing. This is not an area with answers that lend themselves easily to enforcement agencies. Certainly it is a difficult matter to grapple with, especially where people refuse to pay parking or driving fines but, for example, continue to drive their vehicles illegally. In the electorate of Chifley I have experience of people placed in a position where they are unable, by virtue of their income, to pay the level of fines they owe to governments. So it is a matter of deep concern. There would be members here who have constituents in their electorates who are confronted by these problems. Obviously, there are elements of this proposed bill that will come as some relief to members of this House.

Following the matter affecting Mr Partlic, various jurisdictions re-evaluated their approach in securing fine payment without reliance upon prison sentences, limiting them to a last resort. All states and territories have now introduced alternatives, and—as the Attorney-General indicated—less punitive sanctions to enforce fines. For example, in New South Wales last year initiatives were introduced to help reduce the incidence of low-income or mentally unwell individuals finding themselves incarcerated as a result of fine default. There is also a financial imperative to reduce these instances. For example, coverage of this matter in the Sydney Morning Herald dating back to March 2009 indicated that in 2007, for example, 906 people were caught driving without a licence and were subsequently sent to jail compared with 424 in 1994. I am also mindful of the fact that it costs about $210 a day to incarcerate such prisoners.

Further, driving licence offences are also taking up more court time across the country as shown by Australian Bureau of Statistics research. Over the five years to 2009, the number of people convicted of driving licence offences had grown 61 per cent. Without doubt, something needed to be done and, as a result, within the New South Wales jurisdiction people were given the ability to volunteer at charities to have their traffic fines cancelled, an approach triggered by considerations and recommendations of the sentencing council in 2006 designed to give disadvantaged people and people on low incomes the chance to avoid jail. Volunteering to pay off fines will be done through charities including St Vincent de Paul, Youth Off the Streets and the Salvation Army. I also congratulate measures introduced to include partial write-off of debts and financial counselling. I merely mention these matters to help shine a light on the considerable work that has been dedicated in the states to devise means of avoiding incarceration for those people who are in exceptionally difficult situations and trying to deal with fine default.

The bill before us, as indicated by the Attorney-General, establishes a framework enabling states and territories to register interstate court imposed fines that have that cross-border element. In his remarks tonight the Attorney-General has clearly elaborated the way in which that would operate. I do not seek to repeat that in my contribution this evening. From what I understand, legislating to enable more targeted remedies and allow what are essentially civil matters to continue to be treated within the civil justice system is well in line with the government’s access to justice framework; and the bill itself promotes a much more proportionate response and early intervention as a preferred approach to ensure that we do not see matters escalating to serious and potentially harmful events.

The important other point worth making is that this bill along with some of the other bills that have been debated in this parliament this week—for example, the Federal Financial Relations Amendment (National Health and Hospitals Network) Bill—demonstrate the headway that this government in conjunction with states and territories is making to ensure that our federation works more wisely, smarter and more efficiently. If states and territories and the Commonwealth—who obviously take note and learn from each other what they are doing in implementing systems and processes—can harmonise their approaches, there are clearly significant benefits to be had from a compliance and regulatory perspective, from a financial perspective and in respect of the matters before us from a societal perspective.

I commend the bill to the House and I commend the cooperation and wisdom evidenced by the efforts of various levels of government to ensure the smoother functioning of our Federation and the efforts that have been championed by the Attorney-General.

With the indulgence of the Speaker I would not mind including on the record that, on a quite separate matter, I extend my congratulations to the Canberra Capitals head coach Carrie Graf, who has won her first WNBL coach of the month award for season 2010 and 2011.