AU South Australian Law Society president John White fears for new fines recovery laws passed in Parliament
Property Here - Tuesday, July 23, 2013
THE homes and vehicles of serial fine dodgers can be sold by the government to recoup money in extreme cases, even if they are not owned by the offender, now that new laws have been approved by Parliament in South Australia.
The laws allow officers of a new government fines recovery unit to sell a debtor's home or place of residence if they owe more than $10,000.
This includes properties that may be jointly owned by another person.
They can also clamp, impound or sell vehicles used to commit crimes that attract a fine, regardless of the owner.
This could mean employers, parents, children or partners of offenders could lose their car if someone they know or employ breaks the law and is caught while driving their vehicle.
The new laws, which passed Parliament's Upper House this afternoon, are expected to receive final approval from Lower House MPs before becoming law soon.
They create the Fines Enforcement and Recovery Office, which will employ about 85 full-time staff to recover unpaid fines, many of whom will be transferred from the Courts Administration Authority.
They will have the power to withdraw money from the bank accounts of serial fine dodgers or dock their weekly wages.
The total money owed to government has reached about $287 million.
The Law Society of SA has raised concerns that the laws will "unjustly impose a burden on someone who was not responsible for the debt".
In a letter to Attorney-General John Rau Society, president John White called on the government to retain its original policy that a debtor's house cannot be sold no matter how much was owed.
Greens MLC Tammy Franks tried to move an amendment to protect a person's primary place of residence from the measures, but it was voted down.
In relation to cars, the Law Society says the measures apply to any vehicle the offender "owns or is accustomed to drive or that was used in the commission of an offence".
"Plainly this allows the clamping, impounding and ultimate sale of vehicles that belong to someone other than the debtor," Mr White said.
Government Minister Gail Gago said "any vehicle involved in an offence that led to the debt (fine)" could be subject to the law "irrespective" of who owned the vehicle.
This could potentially apply to stolen cars, but that was "unlikely" in practice, she said.
Independent MLC John Darley said he did not support the legislation because the penalties it proposed were too harsh. However, it received the support of Liberal MPs.
During debate on the laws, it was revealed the value of unpaid fines owed to the State Government by South Australian debtors has risen to $287 million.
This includes court fees, victims of crime levies, police expiation notices, overdue council rates and parking fines.
About half the money owed is overdue. The remainder is being paid off under time-payment arrangements or must be paid soon but not yet overdue.
When Mr Rau announced he would introduce the laws in March, $267 million in unpaid fines was owed.
Opposition justice spokesman Stephen Wade said the current figure was more than double the $142 million owed six years ago, despite $171 million in debts being written off between 2010 and last year.
Mr Wade said Opposition calculations predicted that on current trends unpaid fines would top $416 million in four years.
The amount written off between 2008 and 2017 was predicted to be almost $510 million, he said.
"When the average increase in unpaid fines in recent years is more than $32 million per year, Labor has clearly sent up the white flag on fines," Mr Wade said.
"The rate at which the debt has been growing since this Bill was introduced is $6 million a month or $203,000 a day.
"It is distressing because the money that could have been collected could
have gone a long way to deliver much-needed services that South Australians have gone without."
In January last year the Government called in private debt collectors Dun &Bradstreet to recover more than $40 million in unpaid fines.
This morning Ms Gago confirmed only $2.1 million had been recovered over 12 months.
This was because many of the debts were now more than 10 years old and many debtors had changed address and could not be contacted.
Ms Gago said the more than $40 million was owed by about 50,000 people.
She said the Government would not be continuing the arrangement with Dun &Bradstreet.
The company was paid a commission of less than 50 per cent for its work.
Mr Rau has said the new fines enforcement taskforce is expected to recoup about $2.8 million in unpaid fines each year.
However, it is expected to spend $10.4 million each year from 2015-16.
This includes $1.4 million in new funding and $8.6 million in funding already going to the Courts Administration Authority.
The state's largest debtor owes $171,000.
Read more: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/national-news/south-australia/south-australian-law-society-president-john-white-fears-for-new-fines-recovery-laws-passed-in-parliament/story-fnii5yv4-1226683754480#ixzz2Zwe0IOcX