Community work orders for council’s fine defaulters?

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

If people who breach certain public places by-laws don’t pay their fines, the Town Council should seek the imposition of community work orders. So says Councillor Geoff Booth (pictured) who wants stiffer penalties to back up enforcement of the by-laws.

 

Initially he proposed increasing the monetary fines for breaches, singling out 10 by-laws for attention. He has withdrawn two by-laws from his list –  “camping without a permit” and “making fire without a permit” – after speaking with advocates from NT Shelter and the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Service (CAALAS) about the disproportionate impact of such a move on people who are homeless and who rely on welfare benefits.

 

The by-laws remaining in Cr Booth’s sights concern:

• depositing litter;

• drinking liquor;

• possessing opened liquor container;

• causing nuisance;

• behaving indecently;

• providing false identification;

• failing to provide evidence of identity without excuse;

• failing to provide evidence of identity within prescribed time.

 

He has also withdrawn his proposal to increase fines (by as much as 150%), as it’s not about collecting revenue for council, he says, but about changing the behaviour of offenders. This has been welcomed by NT Shelter and CAALAS. Mark O’Reilly, Principal Legal Officer at CAALAS called for council to involve community organisations in their further investigations into alternatives to fines.

 

The power to impose community work orders does not reside with council. It’s a power prescribed under the NT Fines and Penalties (Recovery) Act to deal with fine defaulters. Council’s technical difficulties with accessing the NT Government’s Fines Recovery Unit has been the subject of frequent commentary in council meetings. In last night’s meeting Director of Corporate and Community Services Craig Catchlove said council now has access to the unit in relation to defaults on fines for parking breaches and public places by-law breaches and council should soon be seeing “a return on its investment”.

 

The bulk of fines for public places by-law breaches issued in 2011-12 ($74,884) remains outstanding. This means that the deterrence effect of the existing fine amounts is “untested”, said Mr Catchlove in his report on the issue. He advised councillors to wait until March next year before taking further action.

 

The community in the meantime is benefitting, he said, from improved public order as illegal camping and drinking have decreased. Graphs provided as part of the monthly report from his department actually show more people spoken to in “river runs” this year than last year, but the figures are not really comparable, as this year early morning runs are being conducted five days a week, compared to one or two last year. However, fewer drinkers have been spoken to and since March fewer infringements issued for drinking in public. While fewer standard drinks have been tipped out since April, there was a rise in August.

 

Cr Liz Martin wanted to know if rangers were collecting data about where people who are camping come from and what their circumstances are. Mr Catchlove said an attempt had been made to do this until people were advised by an organisation (he did not name it) not to give the rangers any information.

 

Councillors agreed to revisit the issues in March next year.

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