• Alira Kelly-Ryder (second from right) with friends at a Change the Date rally earlier this year. (Supplied)
West Australian Yamatji woman and mother of four, Alira Kelly-Ryder, has been told a warrant is out for her arrest over $3744 of unpaid fines.
By
Madeline Hayman-Reber

Source:
NITV News
9 May 2018 - 6:42 PM  UPDATED 9 May 2018 - 6:44 PM

Since Monday, Alira Kelly-Ryder has lived in fear of having police knocking on her door to arrest her in front of her children, after being told by a Government agent that a warrant was out for her arrest.

UPDATE: 'Funny, you wanted me to go to jail on Monday’: Warrant dropped for Ms Dhu's cousin

Ms Kelly-Ryder is a qualified youth worker. She has worked with the community her whole professional life – most recently at Banksia Hill Youth Detention Centre as a Liaison Officer.

But when her contract wasn’t renewed recently, she had to get by on a Centrelink payment. As a result, she became unable to continue paying her fines.

She let the Fines Enforcement Registry know immediately, keeping them updated as much as possible.

On Monday, after receiving a new job offer, what should have been a time of celebration quickly turned into despair.

“I contacted them on Monday because I’ve just signed a new contract with a new employer for 12 months, so I’m confident I can start paying again, I want to go back to my $160 a fortnight and I offered them $500 up front,” Ms Kelly-Ryder told NITV News.

“Basically she stopped me halfway through and said I’ll just stop you there, I need to let you know that we cannot do you any more favours, we have a warrant out for your arrest, and we cannot give you any other option other than to go to jail and serve your time or pay $3744.”

Following the phone call, Ms Kelly-Ryder received what she perceived as a "bullying email" outlining the phone call. It left her in tears and feeling very threatened.

While Ms Kelly-Ryder fears what might happen to her children and her career if she gets locked up, she also fears for her life.

“It took me straight back to the death of my cousin in Port Hedland,” she said. 

“She died in a cell because of unpaid fines, other reasons, but first and foremost, if she wasn’t locked up because of unpaid fines, she wouldn’t have died."

Since Ms Dhu’s death in custody, countless other men and women have been locked up at a rate of $250 per day to pay off their fines, despite commitments made by the West Australian Government to discontinue the practice.

As Ms Kelly-Ryder owes $3,744 in unpaid fines, she’d have to serve four days in jail to pay off her highest court fine of $1031.70. Serving time would mean a permanent record, which would affect her future employment prospects.

WA still locking people up for unpaid fines after Ms Dhu's death
Fine defaulters face jail despite Dhu case and coronial inquest.

Last year, the Attorney-General told NITV News the jail-for-fine-defaulter’s system was "scandalous".

“I intend to introduce a package of amendments to the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994 (WA), the effect of which will be to reduce the number of people imprisoned for fine default alone," the Attorney General said in a statement. 

“I have examined the approach taken in other jurisdictions in relation to jailing for fines and I will be in a position to bring forward a reform package to Cabinet before the end of the year.”

In October last year, Mr Quigley told the West Australian that he was considering a Centrelink repayment system for fine defaulters.

His office replied to NITV's request for comment saying that the State Government was still working on it.

"The WA State Government is looking at a range of measures to stop imprisonment from fine default, including a requirement for welfare recipients who have outstanding fines to enter into time to pay (TTP) arrangements," a spokesperson said.

"If the welfare recipient does not enter into a TTP arrangement then the Commonwealth would deduct an amount from the welfare benefits and pay to the Fines Enforcement Registry.

"It’s something we’re still working on and the intention is to introduce a reform package to the Parliament this year."

Following the death of her cousin, and now being in a position to go to prison herself, amending the law is something Ms Kelly-Ryder is passionate about.

“There have been people who have made commitments that they will stop this, and people will not be imprisoned and criminalised for this, and it’s still happening,” she said.

“It makes me wonder, did her life matter?”

National Coordinator of the National Indigenous Critical Response Service, Gerry Georgatos said it’s simply not good enough.

“Last year the Western Australian Government committed to ending the jailing of fine defaulters – which should be seen as is throughout the rest of Australia as civil rather than criminal matters,” Mr Georgatos said.

“Nineteen per cent of Western Australia’s prison population is comprised of people who cannot afford to pay fines. The rapidly increasing female component of the Western Australian prison population is majorly comprised of single-parent mothers.”

EXCLUSIVE: Heavily pregnant single mother threatened with jail over unpaid fines
A heavily pregnant 23-year-old West Australian single mother said she has been threatened with six days in jail unless she can come up with $1000 to pay her fines.

While Mr Georgatos has made a career out of helping people in need, he says it should be up to the Government to help save those in vulnerable positions from going to prison.

“Over the years I’ve been able to assist people who have been threatened with being locked up over fines, or who have been locked up, in every case single mothers with three, four or five children in their care,” Mr Georgatos said.

“However it should not come down to people like myself or lawyers to prise the vulnerable from jail or from the threat of jail and protect from the firmament of impacts including child protection authorities.

“The State Government needs to hurry up its promises, its commitments to legislate for an end to the jailing of fine defaulters."