Fines Amendment Bill 2017

7th March 2017

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 16:54 :05 ): It is wonderful to be able to contribute to this fine bill, the Fines Amendment Bill 2017. It seems like a long time since we have come together in this House with such bonhomie over a bill. It takes me back to the heady days of the Library Amendment Bill. I am not sure if this bill covers library fines. It is great to see all members of the House coming together in accord in support of this bill. I will be brief, as the member for Myall Lakes has so well articulated each of those most important clauses of the bill. I make it very clear from the outset that I too support the bill but I wish to make a couple of brief points which the Government may consider. The points already may be embedded in the bill but I have not been able to see clearly how they will be dealt with.

I am informed that in the Lower Hunter, which includes my electorate of Lake Macquarie, several hundred financial restitution orders are made each year in the local courts. Of these, the University of Newcastle Legal Centre estimates that only about a quarter are actually paid in full by those ordered to pay them. That situation is probably fairly common throughout the State. In most cases the restitution has been ordered by a court against someone who has damaged property, usually to the home of their victim but at times also to their cars or personal property.

As the Minister pointed out when introducing the bill, often an offender enters into an agreement to pay off the debt. To do that, they need some form of regular income. I am informed that the most common cause of default on those financial agreements comes from the offender losing work or income at least in part because their driver licence or car registration is cancelled. In Lake Macquarie, many people have to travel long distances to their place of work. The region does not enjoy reasonable or good public transport like electorates such as those in Sydney and other cities including the Illawarra and Newcastle proper. It is a perverse situation—a bit like cutting your nose off to spite your face. On one hand we have our courts ordering an offender to make financial recompense for their actions and on the other we have a government agency taking away their means to earn the income to do this.

As the recent Office of State Revenue trial has shown, giving debtors more flexibility in how they pay their debts gets better results and leads to more of those debts being settled, which is the best outcome for all parties concerned. Instead of moving to cancel a debtor's driver licence and freezing a debtor out of any means of transport, we should be providing them with other means to properly repair the damage they have caused. This bill does not remove those options but it provides some alternatives which may be used to get a better result. It seems a common sense approach to me, although some concerns have been raised regarding the intention to speed up the court processes and shorten the period in which recompense is made.

Under this amendment, garnishee orders could be made on income or assets before an order is made to cancel a driver licence or car registration. This process could happen far more quickly than a licence can be cancelled and could leave a debtor with less chance to get an appropriate amount of notice or legal advice before the action is taken. I trust that this is not the case but, if so, it might be appropriate for the Chief Commissioner of State Revenue to provide a time frame or a notice to the debtor of the impending action.

This amendment appears to have broad support so I do not intend to repeat some of the remarks already made. I note that this bill will better streamline a number of existing processes and systems, provide a more effective framework for these types of restitutions and provide a more flexible process which will get better results for victims. I believe the bill is thoughtful and provides for common sense and practical solutions which will provide better outcomes for victims, perpetrators and taxpayers by reducing regulatory burden. I commend the bill to the House.

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