Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:33): My question is for the Attorney-General. The Public Accounts and Estimates Committee’s inquiry into the Victorian government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic found 39 985 fines had been issued to people in Victoria for breaches of the COVID-19 rules. 2806 of those fines have been paid in full and 4869 were withdrawn. How many unpaid COVID fines issued have now been converted to criminal charges?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Resources) (12:34): I thank Ms Patten for her question. There is a little bit of crossover with the Minister for Police and Emergency Services given Victoria Police are responsible for issuing fines in relation to the COVID rules. I would just take issue with the last part of your question in that the process does not convert a fine into a criminal charge. It remains an infringement, and it can then result in a warrant or other processes to be able to be enforced. There are some issues you may be interested in well, such as there are other processes for people to pay fines, which I am sure is a matter of interest to you and perhaps other people in this house.
There are multiple initiatives to support particularly vulnerable Victorians to deal with fines. There is a work and development permit where vulnerable people can work off their fines, a family violence scheme allowing survivors of family violence to resolve their fines, and then there is the prison program which supports anyone in prison to deal with their fines so that when they are released from prison they have got a clean slate, which helps to avoid reoffending. In relation to the numbers, that is probably more a matter for the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. There will be some that are potentially registered with the fines department, and I will seek some advice on whether I can get some better numbers for you.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:35): Thank you, Attorney-General. In formulating this question we did seek some information from the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and were directed to you, so it is those blurred lines that we have been talking about all week.
The infringements working group briefing paper by the Federation of Community Legal Services found numerous cases of children as young as 15 receiving multiple fines worth up to $15 000. Many of these kids are from culturally diverse and low socio-economic backgrounds with no ability to pay off these fines. Given the Children’s Court cannot enforce these fines, as they are many times higher than what is enforceable in that court, will the government waive current COVID fines issued to children on the grounds of hardship or unfairness?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Resources) (12:36): I thank Ms Patten for her supplementary question. Coming back to the issuing of the fines, Victoria Police have a lot of discretion in relation to that, and obviously that is available for them to exercise in relation to issuing fines to young people. We certainly know that it has been an incredibly difficult time for many Victorians, particularly those that are vulnerable, which is why we have provided flexible options for people to repay their fines—and this extends to young people. As you have identified, fines issued to people under the age of 18 are not registered with Fines Victoria. They remain a matter for Victoria Police. As you have pointed out, the community legal centres have written to us and sought some further advice, wanting to be involved in whether there can be some internal reviews of practices to see what we can do to make sure that this just does not become a burden on young people’s history. What we want to do is make sure that we can work through those issues, but I can update the house that that internal review by the issuing enforcement agency is underway, and I am awaiting further advice from that review.