The Fines Amendment (Electronic Penalty Notices) Bill 2016 seeks to standardise provisions relating to penalty notices and to allow the NSW Police Force to issue electronic notices. It will also create a framework for other agencies to do the same.
I note the impact that this legislation may have on marginalised and vulnerable people in our community.
On the face of it, this legislation makes sense—we should embrace technological advances to make the business of dealing with personal administration easier and more convenient. It is a fact of life that we are increasingly moving towards a cashless society. We pay our bills online, use our phones to pay for groceries and use our Opal cards to travel on trains.
But we must not forget that for some people these advances serve to further isolate and marginalise them and make the job of participating in our society and economy much more difficult.
For those without regular access to the internet, those who cannot afford a mobile phone, the elderly, non-English-speaking people or the homeless, a move to a cashless society can make it nearly impossible to participate.
A simple task such as catching a bus or paying rent can become insurmountable. Paying rates or paying a utility bill can be an all-day affair and, yes, paying a fine can become a herculean task. Most importantly, it can become increasingly difficult for some people to reach out and ask for help.
This move to electronic penalty notices may intensify the impact of cumulative fines for those having already faced economic hardship.
We have a system where a failure to pay a single traffic infringement can hurl people into a cycle of debt and poverty that for some becomes insurmountable.
Regularly, constituents contact my office after receiving fines, concerned that they cannot afford to pay them. They are facing penalty notices of up to $500 or more for a single infraction, increasing in severity as deadlines they cannot meet pass them by, forcing them to make difficult choices about paying for food, shelter or clothing and meeting their basic needs.
Many resort to loan sharks, where their debts intensify and their problems compound. I obviously support the need for fines and other punitive measures to ensure safety on our roads and in our communities, but I argue that we must do more to protect people caught in a debt spiral by the enforcement of fines.
I note that Federal Labor took a policy of income contingent loans to the recent Federal election, whereby residents could pay down fines over time without having to resort to loan sharks. I believe a similar policy in New South Wales would go a long way towards protecting people from falling into inescapable debt.
I note also that in New South Wales we offer a variety of alternatives for people, including paying by instalments, linking fines to Centrelink payments, applying for work development orders or postponing payment, depending on the severity of the financial institution. These are good measures. But we must consider that this amendment may funnel more people into circumstances where they are either not aware of those fines or they cannot pay them.
While I support this amendment as a good way to simplify and streamline the processes of issuing and paying fines, I urge the Government to consider further measures to protect those trapped in a bleak future of debt and economic hardship all because of a traffic or parking fine.