April 4, 2016  |  second reading speech

Fines Reform And Infringements Acts Amendment Bill 2016

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise and speak on the Fines Reform and Infringements Acts Amendment Bill 2016. I want to begin by congratulating the Attorney‑General, the Premier and the cabinet on this important legislation. This legislation really is about values and what a government stands for. I think all of us, as members of Parliament, on a weekly basis have someone enter our office with an issue involving a fine and seeking some sort of assistance. Often they are people who may have a mental illness or may have an incapacity and who come to us, as elected members of Parliament, in need.

In my preparation for this bill I reflected on when I used to work at the North Melbourne Legal Service; often it would be dealing with fines and people in need. This bill is very much about social justice. It is about making sure that we build on some of the previous Attorney‑General’s reforms in this area. I grant that a large body of work was done by the member for Box Hill in this area, but fines reform is a massive undertaking. When you read through the bill you will see why we are essentially staggering a lot of the reforms and a lot of the improvements. There is a whole body of work that needs to be undertaken with the Department of Justice and Regulation, with community bodies and with community organisations, indeed with the whole ICT system, in setting up a whole new body to manage fines.

I do want to address the member for Hawthorn’s amendments, which were recently circulated, and I will come to them in a moment. But I do believe that the implementation of a new fines recovery model does require a modern system and modern processes. We need to make sure that the government and our enforcement regimes bring the community with them to ensure that our courts and the more than 120 enforcement agencies work with the community sector and have sufficient time to review systems and implement any changes that are required. The government — I think very much so — is looking forward to bringing forward a range of social justice reforms so that vulnerable people are not disadvantaged by the deferred implementation of a new fines recovery model.

Fines reform in many respects refers to a new fines recovery model. Central to the fines recovery model is going from a quasi‑judicial model of fines recovery to a streamlined administrative system. Under the new proposed model the newly created role of director, Fines Victoria, will be undertaking the collection and enforcement of both court fines and infringement notices. The director will be supported by a new administrative unit to be based within the Department of Justice and Regulation called Fines Victoria. We are very much looking forward to a transition from the current transaction‑based approach to a debtor‑centric approach, and there is a whole range of social justice initiatives that are embedded in this legislation.

There is going to be the expanded work and development permit (WDP) scheme. That will essentially be bringing forward the WDP scheme, which will be very much vested in the director of Fines Victoria, prior to the commencement of the Fines Reform Act 2014 on 31 December 2017. This will ensure new and better procedures to properly recognise people with an incapacity, perhaps a mental illness, or who in some way are suffering hardship. This will be the first of its kind in Victoria, and the Department of Justice and Regulation is to be commended for its work in working towards getting this scheme up and running. This approach very much aims to assist our most vulnerable in dealing with their unpaid infringements and fines at an earlier stage to reduce the number of these matters that are progressing towards warrant and arrest.

There is also the reinstatement of an improved time served scheme for prisoners, which the member for Hawthorn touched on. There is also the harmonisation of court powers to deal with fine defaulters, improvements to the internal review process for infringement notices, and the introduction of a new internal oversight function.

The opposition’s amendments have been circulated, and I have a copy of them in my hand. Hearing the remarks from the member for Hawthorn, essentially he said we should basically completely omit the time served component of this legislation. In some ways it does not surprise me that the Liberal Party would want to do that, because it is not the party of social justice. The time served scheme that is embedded in this legislation is really about reinstating the sheriff prison program but building upon its key features to improve it to assist our most vulnerable. It will assist prisoners to rehabilitate and reintegrate into the community upon release. It will also reduce the possibility of re‑imprisonment for infringement fine‑related debt.

Imagine if we did what the member for Hawthorn wants and took away and omitted the time served provisions. If you were recalcitrant in some way and were racking up a lot of debt, a lot of fines, you would go into prison to serve your time to reduce those debts and fines, but that is not enough for the member for Hawthorn. He wants you to come out and to still have those fines. How would you then pay for those fines? You would see an increase probably in burglaries and 7‑Eleven‑type hold‑ups. These are people who are going to come out, who may have a mental illness. They will probably have a housing issue more than anything else, and then they are going to have high levels of fines hanging over their heads.

We will have a look at the amendments put forward by the member for Hawthorn, but from where I sit, as the parliamentary secretary for justice in the party of social justice, I certainly do not support removing the time served scheme provisions that the Attorney‑General has in this legislation. I really do believe that it is reasonable that we support prisoners, where appropriate, in order to rehabilitate them and reintegrate them into the community upon release. We do not want to see a revolving prison door, where people come out only to go back into prison for infringement fine‑related debt.

I will say one thing to the member for Hawthorn: he should probably catch up with the former Premier and member for Burwood, Jeff Kennett. I had the pleasure to be with former Premier Kennett only a month ago to launch the Torch Project, which allows Indigenous prisoners to work off their debts by legally selling their artwork from prison. This helps them in terms of their rehabilitation when they come back into the community because they do not have large debts hanging over their heads. The member for Hawthorn should go and catch up with Mr Kennett, because I think Mr Kennett might have some wise advice for the member for Hawthorn.

I believe this legislation is very much about what the Andrews Labor government went to the election on — putting people first. We acknowledge the large body of work that was done by our predecessors in the area of fines reform. But we believe in rolling up our sleeves and getting the ICT components working for fines reform and ensuring that the Department of Justice and Regulation and the secretary, in the interim, do the work to ensure that all the key components of the new body, Fines Victoria, are in place once the legislation is passed.

When I think about this legislation and the overlap between the Sentencing Act 1991 and the Infringements Act 2006, I note that it is about getting the balance right. Sometimes fines can lead to other sorts of crimes. We should bring back the time served provisions to give people the best chance and opportunity to rehabilitate themselves when they come out of prison so that they do not come out of prison with a whole new level of debt hanging over their heads that they are going to have to work off.

I commend the Attorney‑General on bringing this legislation forward, particularly the social justice initiatives involved, such as the work and development permits. I believe the time served provisions are welcome and that they should be supported.

As the member for Niddrie, a week does not go by without someone coming into my office to seek my assistance in relation to fines. I am always happy to help them. For the majority of people — 90 per cent of constituents who come through my office with a fine — it is a one‑off. Often they have a mental impairment. As local MPs, we are all there to help ensure that a fine does not lead someone into the prison system. We should do everything we can to ensure that we get the balance right and that when we look through the lens of this legislation we see it for what it is worth. It is very much about social justice and putting people first. I commend the legislation. I commend the bill to the house.