Whether you’re new to Australia or have been here for a while, there are probably several behaviours that are considered small offences that you don’t know about. We look at the most common, and what to do if you get in trouble.
Nohara Odicho is a Community Engagement Officer for the Refugee Service of Legal Aid New South Wales. She says that the minor offences she hears the most about are driving offences, especially driving with an international license, not locking your car and smoking in covered are of train stations.
Having a dog that’s not registered, littering, using offensive language and putting feet on the seat of a train are other minor offences that could leave you with a warning or a fine.
If you came here from a country where the culture and laws are different, it makes senses that you’d be more at risk of committing one of these offences.
“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, a grape. And I know from going into the community and going into the shops and stores, 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 in those supermarkets, technically speaking that's shoplifting," says Florence Montalvo Cruz, family solicitor at the Refugee Service of Legal Aid New South Wales.
She says another thing that people might not be aware can be a minor offence is playing loud music in your car or at home, especially late at night or early in the morning.
Working in family law, she says that one of the issues she sees most often are related to children not going to school: “A lot of parents don't understand it’s a big issue. So if a child doesn't go to school, the parent can be held responsible for that and it could lead the Department of Education and the Department of Family and Community Services to be involved with the family."
If you commit a minor offence, you could be issued a fine that can go up to several thousand dollars. If you can’t afford to pay the fine, you can 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,” explains Montalvo Cruz.
Certain offences can also stay on your criminal record.
Get legal advice as early as possible
Odicho says that you should get in touch with your local legal aid as early as possible to receive free legal advice.
“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 them. Most people might say that it's not a big problem, that there's no need to go to a lawyer. It's something small, it's just a fine, it's just a contract. Or I just have a problem with the school and with my children, I don't want anyone to be involved in this matter, but those are legal issues and as early as you can come, you have more options."
Everything you share with your lawyer will remain confidential. “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. 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," says Montalvo Cruz.
If you prefer to receive help in a language other than English, you can request an interpreter at your local Legal Aid.
If you want to learn more about the laws where you live, your state Legal Aid has resources online and give workshops and information sessions.