• A class action has been launched against the WA government over the incarceration of Aboriginal people over unpaid fines. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
In the past eight months, while waiting for the introduction of Western Australia’s fine default reforms bill, people have been locked up more than 200 times for unpaid fines in the state.
Rangi Hirini

NITV News, The Point
10 Jun 2020 - 6:47 PM  UPDATED 10 Jun 2020 - 7:00 PM

The Department of Justice has confirmed Western Australians have been locked up more than 200 times for unpaid fines in the past eight months since the introduction of Western Australia’s fine default reforms bill in September last year.

The bill is set for debate in the Upper House on Thursday. 

Western Australia is the only state in the country where people can be imprisoned for unpaid fines.

Currently, under the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994 (WA), if a person defaults on a payment arrangement, an arrest warrant is issued and they are detained at a rate of $250 per day until the fine is 'paid off.’ 

The Fines, Penalties, and Infringement Notices Enforcement Amendment Bill (2019) was introduced to state parliament in September 2019, and is expected to be debated in the Upper House on Thursday before it is passed to become law. 

Advocates for Western Australia’s fine reforms package say the bill should have been passed months ago and the longer the government takes the more Indigenous incarcerations occur.

National Coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project Gerry Georgatos told NITV News Western Australian’s have been waiting too long for the fine reforms laws to pass parliament.

“This bill should have been passed as soon as this government came in three years ago,” Mr Georgatos said. 

“We’ve had score and scores of people jailed and thousands of people on financial hardship and we need this bill passed as fast as possible so the amendments can lead to the prevention of incarceration,” he said.

Seven kids go fatherless as Perth dad is locked up for unpaid fines
An Aboriginal father was arrested and incarcerated for unpaid fines as Western Australians continue to wait on the fine default reforms package to pass Parliament.

Narungga woman and CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement Cheryl Axleby agrees that the reforms are long overdue.

“I think it’s a long time coming. Since the death of Ms Dhu in particular the government had made that commitment, as I understand, way back then so it’s great to see they’re finally addressing that issue” she told NITV News.  

A spokesperson for the WA Labor Government told NITV News they hope to pass the bill in the next three sitting weeks.

Liberal politician Michael Mischin is managing the WA Oppositions position on the bill.

Mr Mischin told NITV News the Liberal Party will not be opposing the bill.

“While we have concerns regarding its approach to fines, it contains worthwhile proposals, some of which had been worked on by the previous government,” Mr Mischin said.

Noongar mother locked up for unpaid fines months after reforms package introduced
Despite the introduction of the fine default reforms package, Western Australians still run the risk of incarceration as a means of ‘cutting fines.’

Abolishing fine default laws was one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991. 

Recommendation 120 stated unpaid fines should be waived if over five years old and recommendation 121 said that instead of imprisonment, there should always be alternatives.

“These are recommendations from three decades ago and we’re seeing the neglect of these recommendations that has resulted in accumulated hardship exculpate to such a point that it has significantly contributed to the filling of jails,” Mr Georgatos said.

According to WA’s former Inspector of Custodial Services, Aboriginal women account for two-thirds of all female fine defaulters.

The proposed bill has been sitting on the state parliament’s agenda since March but hasn’t yet been debated. 

Under the proposed changes only a magistrate will be able to issue an order for imprisonment of unpaid fines.

The day after the bill is passed in parliament, all unserved warrants of commitment will be void.

Once the bill passes the upper house, it will be presented to the lower house and then approved by the governor before becoming law.

WA Parliament returned on February 10 and has passed ten COVID-19 related bills between April 1 and May 12 and five non-COVID-19 related bills.

WA to change fine default laws five years after Ms Dhu's death
The WA attorney-general has announced changes to fine default laws that have disproportionately target Aboriginal women.