Justice Legislation Amendment (Fines Reform and Other Matters) Bill 2022
As my voice is still recovering, I will be brief in this contribution, but please do not misinterpret my brevity as an indication of the relative importance of fines reform. I am pleased to speak on this Justice Legislation Amendment (Fines Reform and Other Matters) Bill 2022. While fines and infringements are at the lower end of the seriousness scale in criminal law, having a fair, equitable and efficient fines system is appreciated by nearly all Victorians and is critical for disadvantaged Victorians. It is also clear that, despite rare political consensus on this issue, a fair, equitable and efficient system is yet to truly be achieved.
The coalition government started the recent reform process with the Fines Reform Act in 2014, which created Fines Victoria. But without apportioning blame to any side of politics, it is fair to say in the eight years since the act passed the implementation of these reforms is still a work in progress, so we need to keep working to improve the system and in particular implement the recommendations of the Fines Reform Advisory Board’s report of 2020 to the Attorney-General.
This bill does some good things, implementing some of these recommendations, so the Greens broadly support it. However, I know that stakeholders have contacted members across this place to raise concerns about some aspects of this bill. I would particularly like to thank representatives of community legal services for freely sharing their expertise and experiences with all members, because there really is no group of people who understand how fines affect the community more than these lawyers. I know Mr Barton has some amendments based on their feedback, and as my colleague in the other place Dr Tim Read indicated a couple of weeks ago, these are important amendments that the Greens will support.
The Greens, too, have amendments, which I would now like circulated.
Greens amendments circulated by Dr RATNAM pursuant to standing orders.
Dr RATNAM: These amendments implement recommendation 15 of the Fines Reform Advisory Board’s recommendation to create a low penalty rate, a concessional rate, to be applied to fines and infringements of the most financially disadvantaged Victorians. We believe that advisory board recommendation 15, delivering a concessional penalty rate, must be implemented without any further delay. Because in the prevailing economic environment, with cost-of-living pressures rising faster than they have for decades, the relative inequity of the current flat-rate sanctions on those already living in poverty and at risk of poverty on very low incomes becomes even greater.
So now really is the most appropriate time to support a concessional fine rate.
In New South Wales Labor and the Greens recognised that with the cost-of-living pressures flat-rate penalties are unfair and inequitable and work counterproductively to the greater good of the community. They immediately did something about it, introducing amendments for a concessional penalty rate in the Fines Amendment Bill 2019 in the upper house, which the coalition government also agreed to support in the lower house, because a fair and equitable fines scheme is not a partisan issue and the need for cost-of-living relief is accepted universally. So the Greens are calling for all members to support this bill with our amendments today.