Ms Patten (Northern Metropolitan) — I would like to speak just briefly on the Fines Reform and Infringements Acts Amendment Bill 2016. While infringement notices are certainly a way to let people deal with minor offences through a lower penalty without recording a conviction, the standardised approach that we have at the moment has led to a degree of inequality. That one-size-fits-all approach that we have currently does not allow us to respond effectively to the various circumstances of the Victorian population and the difficulties that some of that population experience.
This was raised in a 2013 report by the Sentencing Advisory Council. It found that the current system of fines was fragmented and that it also created some obvious obstacles to both payment and enforcement. Victoria Legal Aid supported the council on this in a media release:
‘The current system has had a disproportionate impact on people affected by disability, mental illness, homelessness or poverty’, Mr Townsend said. ‘We agree with the council that people who can’t pay their fines for these reasons should be treated differently to people who can afford to pay but deliberately avoid payment’.
I would just like to note at this point that I will be supporting Ms Pennicuik’s amendment to include victims of family violence in the list of eligible persons in clause 4. We saw this recommended in the family violence report. I think it is important to recognise the impact that family violence has on people in a whole range of ways, so I will certainly be supporting that amendment.
Going on, the bill does also help to alleviate the impact of infringement fine debt on vulnerable people and it will ensure that there is a much more streamlined way and much more effective operation to recover fines. I believe one of the members who spoke before mentioned the numbers of outstanding fines at the moment. In reading this bill, it seems to be an effective way of improving our fine recovery model.
I note that again we are deferring the commencement of legislation. For this it is until the end of next year. I have never been one to enjoy deferments and the glacial rate at which we seem to be able to move to make legislative changes, but I accept that it will take time to develop this new system. I welcome the fact that the new justice initiatives in the bill will happen at a faster rate. That will enable us to show support for vulnerable people over this time.
The changes include new powers of oversight of the internal review decision-making, the introduction of the work and development permit scheme, the harmonisation of court powers to deal with fine defaulters, and the reinstatement of an improved time served scheme for prisoners. I really think that this is worth reinstating because we do not want prisoners coming out with a huge debt and starting with that whole revolving door process, where they come out of jail with a debt and they end up back in jail because of that exact debt. It does turn into a revolving door process and it also does not recognise some of those very vulnerable people who do find themselves in the justice system and often are falling through the cracks. Being able to convert fines into time served and allowing access to discharge of the fines in special circumstances I think are prudent ways of ensuring a flexible justice system that recognises the impacts of family violence, mental health issues, homelessness, and financial vulnerability.
Overall I support this bill. I think it is a positive step in addressing some of the inequalities that we see in the current structure. I commend the bill to the house.