Exclusive: government rejected call by legal groups to replace Covid fines, issued to about 3,000 children, with cautions
Christopher Knaus reports for Guardian Australia
The New South Wales government privately suggested children as young as 10 could be placed in an unpaid work program or on “extended payment plans” to help them pay off hefty fines for breaching Covid rules, prompting outrage from the state’s community legal centres.
Roughly 3,000 Covid fines have been issued to children aged 10-17 in NSW, most commonly for failing to comply with a direction under the public health act, and usually for amounts of $1,000.
The state government had privately flagged its intention to use WDOs earlier this year, after an alliance of legal groups, including Community Legal Centres NSW, wrote to the premier, calling for Covid fines to be withdrawn for children aged 10-17.
The legal group, including RLC, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW and Public Interest Advocacy Centre, called for the children to be issued cautions instead and warned the fines were disproportionately affecting disadvantaged communities. Children had little capacity to pay or understand the enforcements system, the groups warned.
“Our services have also received numerous reports of children in out-of-home care receiving Covid fines,” they wrote. “Many of these children were also experiencing complex, intersecting vulnerabilities, including intellectual disabilities and/or mental health conditions, trauma background, and interrupted schooling.”
The government’s response, seen by the Guardian, rejected the call to replace the fines with cautions.
Data released by the Redfern Legal Centre last year showed fines worth $2.1m have been issued to 2,844 children aged 10-17 since the middle of last year.
More than half the children received a fine of $1,000. Seventeen children were fined $5,000 and 39 were fined $3,000.