• The 38 year old single mother of five was jailed for four days due to unpaid fines. (NITV)
Western Australia is the only state still jailing people for fine defaults with First Nation’s people being one of the communities most affected by the law.
By
Rangi Hirini

Source:
NITV News
20 Feb 2019 - 5:22 PM  UPDATED 20 Feb 2019 - 5:22 PM

Sitting in front of a mural of family photos, the small-framed woman admits how nervous she is for this interview. She tells me about her partner, the father of her children, who has recently passed away and how she's trying to be strong for her kids’ every day. 

“We don’t go into the room because it’s still so hard,” she says. Taking a deep breath she says she’s ready to talk.

“My name is Naomi Bropho” she says, and our interview begins.

Naomi lives in the northern suburbs of Perth, in a cul-de-sac roughly 500 metres from her kids' school. We’re meeting an hour or so before the kids finish as she has to go up the hill to collect two daughters, her youngest, later in the afternoon.

“I love being a mum… My kids just, they just mean everything to me,” she says.

Growing up, Naomi lived on the Swan Valley Nyungah (Noongar) Community camp in Lockridge. The small camp was an Aboriginal community once and is still culturally significant to many Noongar people.

“Growing up there as a teenager, I worked there as a sectary,” she says. My Aunty used to work in the office and I used to go out a lot with my nan and pop and used to write a lot about native title and meet with archaeologists and elders and that. But that was when I was very young." 

In 2003, the WA government closed down the community following allegations of widespread sexual abuse, rape and substance abuse. 

She explains how her life has been tough since her late teen years, from getting pregnant at 19-years-old, to moving into her first home and then helping her mother and sister also find homes. 

Naomi says she was 22-years-old with two children when the community was shut down by the government.

Over the years, the proud Noongar woman witnessed a number of relatives go in and out of jail. It was life, she says, but one she didn’t want for herself. Then, in 2017, a turn of events saw the single mother jailed without a trial.

The fine default laws have made national headlines since 2014, when Yamatiji woman Ms Dhu was imprisoned at South Hedland police station for unpaid fines. 

The 22-year-old woman died three days after being arrested and detained at the station. Initially police were called because her partner had violated terms of an apprehended violence order. 

This year the controversial law again made headlines after a Go Fund Me campaign was launched to free WA mothers from serving jail time for fine defaults.

In Western Australia, 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'. Western Australia is the only state still locking people up for unpaid fines.  

In New South Wales, unpaid fines are referred to the State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO). Since its introduction in 2006, the SDRO has collaborated with Legal Aid NSW, ASL and the Department of Police and Justice to develop the Work and Development Order Service - similar to community service - as a means of paying off unpaid fines.

In Victoria, the Penalty Enforcement by Registration of Infringement Notice Court deals with unpaid fine infringements.

Queensland saw a reduction in fine default imprisonments since the introduction of their State Penalty Enforcement Registry (SPER) which consolidates the collection of fine and infringement debt and offers alternatives. The state also had an amnesty period of four months.

In WA, the last amendment made to the fine default law was in 2008 when changes were made to allow people to serve multiple sentences concurrently to pay off their largest fine.

In 2016, the Inspector of Custodial Services released a report into fine defaulters across the state’s prison system, data collected from July 2006 to March 2015 showed Aboriginal females were more likely to serve jail time as a means of cutting off their fines. 

The report also stated 73 per cent of all female (Aboriginal and Non- Aboriginal) fine defaulters had stated they were unemployed, with almost all of them citing home as their occupation. While only 10 per cent of all male fine defaulters were unemployed. 

Fifty-two per cent of the Aboriginal unemployed fine defaulters were female, while 57 per cent of non-Aboriginal fine defaulters with employment are male.

“This evidence supports the notion of Aboriginal women historically being the most vulnerable to fine default imprisonment,” the Inspector wrote. 

Sadly, in October 2017 Naomi joined the statistic of Aboriginal women being jailed for fine defaults.

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Naomi takes me back to the day when her world changed. She says she was doing "nothing" when all of a sudden she received a phone call from her mother who notified her that a family member would be coming to her house. Fearing for her safety and that of her own five children and an additional six who she was looking after, she asked her mum to call the police. 

“I said, 'well ring the police because we’ve got a whole lot of kids at my house.' She did. They’ve taken two hours to get to the house and when they did rock up, they’ve come straight to me and just taken me,” she says.

Although Naomi was in a relationship, her partner and father to her children was himself in jail for fine defaults, leaving her as the sole caretaker for the 11 children in her care. 

“They just said come down to the police station, we have to question you about some outstanding fines, there’s a warrant. I said, ‘okay then', and I get down there and then they told me it was a $3900 fine on the system and I had to go straight to Melaleuca Prison.” 

Naomi found out she had a number of dog fines from 2012, fines she claims she never received any notification about.

The single mother was facing 14 days in jail in order to pay off the $3900 fine and was terrified of how her children would react, including her youngest daughter who was only three at the time.

“It was just the thought of these kids. I was going crazy in the prison. I couldn’t eat or sleep properly,” she says.

“I was picturing my kids. I know it sounds crazy but I could see my daughter and the kids just running because I never let my daughter stay with anybody or spend the night with anybody because she’s so close to me and I couldn’t handle it." 

After a story about Naomi's predicament was published online, a Melbourne pensioner paid off her outstanding fine and what would have been two weeks away from her children was reduced to only four days of seperation.

“I just couldn’t believe it, aye. I couldn’t believe that people just care out there. And all different kinds of people- people from Sydney, people from Melbourne, they even put money on my property to make phone calls and keep in contact with my kids. I had people pay for my kids electricity bill because my electricity was cut off.”

Pensioner and retiree, Peter Clark previously told NITV he was disgusted that the mother of five had been jailed.

“The story described the horrendous situation in Western Australia where a Noongar lady had been locked up for the non-payment of fines to the sum of I think about $3900, and I thought that was absolutely shameful and disgusting,” Mr Clark said at the time. 

“It struck a chord in me and I was incensed, so I decided to do something about it because I could.”

Mr Clark isn’t alone in wanting to help those most vulnerable to the system. This year, more than 7600 people  donated over $350,000 to help Aboriginal women, specifically single mothers, get released from jail and pay off their fines.

The Sister’s Inside campaign, Free the People, was created on 5 January,  and in the first two days reached it’s initial goal of $99,000. Currently, the campaign sits just under their new goal of $375,000.

Updated on Sunday, the Go Fund Me campaign states they have helped pay off 98 Aboriginal mother’s warrants and freed five women from prison.

Because of her experience, Naomi says she no longer feels safe to call the police, or any other emergency service, fearing she could be imprisoned again. 

“I just feel so hurt aye," she says. "Police don’t even listen no more. I can't even ring the ambulance. I can't ring the police. ... I just feel like there’s no one out there that you can trust anymore."

NITV reached out to the WA Attorney General, John Quigley for a comment but he was unavailable. Previously, the Attorney General’s office has stated that amendments to the fine default law will be introduced to Parliament in the first half of 2019. 

“The McGowan Government takes this issue very seriously. We know that keeping fine defaulters in custody to ‘cut out’ their unpaid fines is not the most effective way to enforce fines payments and is economically unsound… This is something the McGowan Government is committed to addressing and addressing effectively,” a spokesperson for the Attorney General previously told NITV.

Naomi has one simple message for the state government.

“People shouldn’t chuck us in prisons, we’re single mothers”

For more, tune into #ThePoint tonight at 8.30pm AEST on NITV, channel 34 free to air.