There are several minor offences in Australia that could get you in trouble that you might not know about.And the consequences can be severe.
Having a dog that is not registered, driving with an overseas license, not locking your car and smoking in the covered area of a train station are all considered minor offences in Australia that could get you in trouble with the law.
If your country of origin has different laws, you might be at risk of committing one of these offences.
Florence Montalvo Cruz is the family solicitor at the Refugee Service of Legal Aid New South Wales.
She says what’s accepted in your home country might differ.
“One of the things that my dad likes to do is that when he goes to the market, sometimes he tastes the fruits, for example, like a grape or something like that. And I know from going into the community and going into the shops and stores and something like that, I can see that a lot of people from different cultures have that similar practice, but what they don't understand is that in that situation when they're taking fruits and trying it out at Woolworths or Coles, those supermarkets, technically speaking that's shoplifting."
And while you probably won't be arrested, it can create an argument and for the situation to escalate.
She says another playing loud music in your car or at home is another minor offence people are often not aware of.
“Coming from a cultural background where music is a big part of our background, our culture, we love putting music on. When we're at home if we have a party or something like that, the music is very loud and sometimes people don't know that there are noise restriction. So it can't be too late, especially during week days, and it can't be too early."
Working in family law, she says that the issues she sees most often are related to children not going to school.
“Which a lot of parents don't understand is a big issue. So if a child doesn't go to school, the parent can be held responsible for that and it could take the Department of Education to be more involved with the family. It could lead the Department of Family and Community Services to be involved with the family."
Another issue that she witnesses a lot is a parent harassing the other by phone and text message after a separation.
This can lead to the police issuing an apprehended domestic violence order or A.V.O.
“And if they don't see a lawyer to try to help them negotiate time with the kid, they just continue sending the messages with an AVO being in place, they could be charged with what's called the breach of an AVO and that's a criminal offence and that's one that really gets them stomped because then they have a criminal record."
Depending on what offence you've committed, consequences can go from a warning, to a fine to something worst.
“If it's a parking ticket, that's a minor parking offence so it won't stay on your record, but things like using offensive language in public, if they have a knife in a public place, if they're driving without their license, if they're driving over the speed limit, depending on how much over the speed limit they've driven. All of those things can be part of a criminal record. Shoplifting is another thing."
Fines can go up to several thousand dollars, which can cause more problems if you can't pay it.
But Florence Montalvo Cruz says they are ways to get support.
“Legal Aid has a work and development order service that can help them pay off the fine without paying it off in terms of money, but rather engaging in community activities, and study is another as well, and the hours they put it in those activities work off the fine that they owe."
Nohara Odicho is a Community Engagement Officer for the Refugee Service of Legal Aid New South Wales.
She says that you shouldn't hesitate to ask for free legal advice through Legal Aid.
“Most people from CALD communities and newly arrived, they tend to blame themselves when those problems happen and they won't ask for help. They might ask a community member and maybe they get the wrong advice, the wrong information."
No matter if your issue is small or big, she says you should get professional help through your local Legal Aid as early as possible.
“It's like, when you're sick, you go to the doctor, when your car is broken you take it to someone to fix it so these legal issues, you can see someone to help you with. Most people they say, it's not a big problem, there's no need to go to a lawyer. It's something small, it's just a fine, it's just a contract. Or just I have a problem with the school and with my children, I don't want anyone to be involved in this matter, but I'm just saying those are legal issues and as early as you can come, you have more options."
Florence Montalvo Cruz also adds that what you talk about with your lawyer is confidential.
“So a lot of the time people are worried that the community is going to know what their legal problems are that they're going to be the talk of the town, and that's not going to happen because when you see a lawyer, a legal aid lawyer is free, but it's also confidential, they won't disclose what you discuss to anyone else."
If you need legal help or even if you just have a question, you can contact your local Legal Aid office for free. You can also request an interpreter.