A call on government to pause enforcement of COVID-19 fines over the holidays
A coalition of 33 legal organisations have signed an open letter calling for an immediate pause on enforcement action of COVID-19 fines, raising concerns about the impact of hefty fines on people already experiencing vulnerability.
The open letter, coordinated by Public Interest Advocacy Centre, calls on NSW finance minister Damien Tudehope and Attorney General Mark Speakman to introduce an immediate four-month pause on enforcement action, and questions the validity of many of the fines issued.
Statistics obtained by Redfern Legal Centre reveal that almost 50,000 COVID-19 fines were issued for breaches of Public Health Orders, with more than one third remaining unpaid.
Ninety nine per cent of these unpaid fines have been escalated to enforcement, which can include suspension of drivers’ licences, cancellation of vehicle registration, seizure of property, deduction of wages or court summons.
These figures have come to light as legal services report that a significant proportion of their clients have been fined in circumstances when they appear not to have committed an offence (for example where they had a ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave their home) or would have been more appropriately cautioned or given a direction.
The groups are particularly concerned about the disproportionate impact of Public Health Order fines on groups already experiencing hardship, such as people experiencing homelessness and people with psychosocial disability.
The top 7 NSW LGAs where PHO fines were issued (adjusted for population size) are Brewarrina, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Moree Plains, Walgett, Bourke and Gunnedah. This also raises concerns about the impact of fines on regional and Aboriginal communities.
"Redfern Legal Centre is deeply concerned about the impact of significant COVID-19 fines on people already experiencing heightened vulnerability," RLC CEO, Joanna SHulman said. "For many of our clients, having additional fines debt over the holidays will have serious consequences.
"The data RLC has uncovered clearly shows that a significant number of people are struggling to resolve their fines, many of which we believe have been wrongly issued. We are asking for a reprieve over the holiday period to give people additional time needed to seek advice and obtain a fair and just resolution of their fines.’
Read the open letter to Minister for Finance Damien Tudehope and Attorney General Mark Speakman.
Signatories to the open letter:
- Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited
- AbSec – NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation
- Accessible Diversity Services Limited
- Animal Defenders Office
- Australian Centre for Disability Law
- Central Tablelands and Blue Mountains Community Legal Centre
- Community Legal Centres NSW
- CORE Community Services
- Council for Intellectual Disability
- Counterpoint Community Services
- Far West Community Legal Centre
- First Peoples Disability Network (Australia)
- Homelessness NSW
- Inner Sydney Voice
- Intellectual Disability Rights Service
- Kingsford Legal Centre
- Macarthur Legal Centre
- Mid North Coast Legal Centre
- Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency (MECA)
- Muslim Women Australia
- NSW Council of Social Service
- Newtown Neighbourhood Centre
- North & North West Community Legal Service
- Penrith Disabilities Resource Centre (PDRC)
- Physical Disability Council of NSW
- Public Interest Advocacy Centre
- Redfern Legal Centre
- Refugee Advice and Casework Service
- Regional Disability Advocacy Service
- South Eastern Community Connect (SECC)
- South West Sydney Legal Centre
- St Vincent de Paul Society NSW
- Sydney Community Forum
- SydWest Multicultural Services
- The Fact Tree Youth Service
- Warra Warra Legal Service
- Women’s Domestic Court Advocacy Service
- Youth Action
RLC in the media
- More than 7000 people challenge COVID-19 fines, but most fail (Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 2021)
- Unfair Covid fines causing hardship and should not be enforced, advocates say (Guardian, 7 December 2021)