• Noongar mother of four, Jessica Slater was incarcerated for unpaid fines despite living in on the other side of the country for the last seven years. (SBS/ Aaron Fernandes)
Despite the introduction of the fine default reforms package, Western Australians still run the risk of incarceration as a means of ‘cutting fines.’
By
Rangi Hirini

Source:
NITV News
9 Jan 2020 - 9:03 AM  UPDATED 9 Jan 2020 - 9:03 AM

Thirty-two-year-old Noongar mother of four, Jessica Slater, has labelled her imprisonment for unpaid fines as 'unfair and unjust'. She went to WA Police for help in solving her mother's death and was instead locked up.

On the advice from the legal representative helping her find closure for her mother's passing, Ms Slater went to the Perth police station, located in Northbridge, for further support. 

"Two police officers come out with paperwork. I thought it was for my mum, so I've bolted to them, and then I'm informed that I'm under arrest and for fines and I found that ridiculous," Ms Slater told NITV News.

"I've been gone for over seven years. I had no clue that I had any warrants here, and it's not like I'm hiding out. I actually presented myself to the police station," she said.

The Noongar mother had left Perth in 2012 and relocated to Queensland to start a better life for her and her children. She returned on Christmas Day to find answers after the sudden death of her mother in September.

"There's no justice in this world, it's ridiculous. I'm trying to find justice for my mother, and I'm trying to do all the right things, and then I get locked away," said Ms Slater. 

"I felt pretty hurt and let down by the system," she said. 

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Coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, Gerry Georgatos, helped Ms Slater get released from the Perth watchhouse. She was detained on Tuesday afternoon and released Wednesday morning. 

Mr Georgatos told NITV News he has known Jessica for many years and has seen her turn her life around.

"She's had a harrowing life, a harrowing journey. We've taken her from a negative place to a positive place. I couldn't let this journey be interrupted by an unwarranted lock up for unpaid fines that are six or seven years old. I needed to get her out as fast as possible," said Mr Georgatos.

"Goodwill alone won't carry people out its gotta be the state government that gets the amendments in practice not just in principle," he said. 

The issues of 'cutting off fines' in Western Australia was brought to the national agenda in January last year after human rights advocate, Debbie Kilroy, launched the Free Her campaign

A year on and more than half a million dollars has been raised to help Western Australian Aboriginal women pay off their unpaid fines. So far, 143 fines have been paid, 22 women have been released, and 99 women have been assisted with payment plans.

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Ms Kilroy told NITV News that she feels inspired and honoured that so many people have donated their money to the cause.

"Every cent that we've received has been paid on fines…when we get money in we're trying to pay as much as we can on those fines so that the women aren't arrested and placed in prison," said Ms Kilroy.

"I didn't think because I started a Free Her campaign that there would be change overnight. Western Australian Aboriginal leaders and organisations have been doing the hard work for decades," she said.

In September, the WA Attorney General, John Quigley introduced the fine default reforms package to state parliament. However, little action was made before the end of the year. 

A spokesperson for Attorney General, John Quigley, told NITV News individuals with outstanding fines or a warrant of commitment should contact the Fines Enforcement Registry, and enter into a time to pay arrangement. 

"Legislative reform is required to cancel warrants of commitment, so these warrants will not be cancelled until Labor's legislation passes through the Parliament," said the spokesperson.

State Parliament is currently on its summer break and won't be returning until February 10. There is no date set for when the reforms package will be on the parliamentary agenda.

 

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