Redfern Legal Centre says $20,000 in fines issued is ‘unjust’ and ‘sets children up for failure’
Christopher Knaus reports for The Guardian
About 500 children aged under 15 were fined a total of $20,000 for not wearing or carrying a mask in New South Wales in the past 12 months, including 34 who remain in an unpaid work and development scheme to reduce their debts.
Revenue NSW confirmed late on Thursday that WDOs were being used for children fined for mask offences.
It said 34 of the 501 fines issued to children for the offence were still outstanding. All 34 were being paid off using a WDO, which Revenue NSW argues is a voluntary process designed to aid those without the financial means to pay back fines.
Of the 147 fines that had been paid back in full, 44 had been fully paid via a WDO. The rest were resolved via normal payment.
No fines have been issued to children under the age of 13.
Redfern Legal Centre senior solicitor Samantha Lee said the pandemic had shown the state’s fine enforcement system was “unduly harsh” on children.
“A warning or caution should be a first port of call for any child alleged to have committed a summary offence,” Lee said. “The NSW fine system basically treats children the same way as adults, which is unjust and sets children up for failure.”
Lee said the legal centre’s casework on Covid fines, which includes a NSW supreme court challenge to the legality of fines in three test cases, showed that many of the penalties were not issued according to law. That is because the “law was rapidly changing and no one, not even police, were able to keep up with the law”, she said.
“We also know the majority of fines were issued to those from low socioeconomic areas,” Lee said. “It was a hard and confusing time for children to live through. It’s time for the government to show compassion and withdraw these fines.”