THURSDAY, 16 JUNE 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan crack down on unpaid fines and reducing unnecessary incarceration by reforming the fine recovery process; positive policies for Leichhardt; Bob Katter campaign ad.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks very much for coming along today. I'm here with Sharryn Howes, Labor's terrific candidate for Leichhardt, to announce an important Labor policy to make sure that fine defaulters pay and we have fewer people in prisons. Right now, Australian States and Territories are locking up fine defaulters, it's costing the taxpayer up to $770 per day and it's one of the reasons why the Australian incarceration rate is going up and up. Later this year, we will probably hit the point where we've got more than 40,000 behind bars. Our incarceration rate is now 196 per 100,000, that's as high as it's been in at least a century. The Indigenous incarceration rate is higher still. Indigenous Australians, adjusted for age, are 15 times more likely to be in jail. That's an incarceration rate that's even higher than it was when the report into Aboriginal deaths in custody was handed down in 1991.
Labor takes incarceration seriously, we take Indigenous incarceration seriously. We've called for incarceration targets to be part of the Closing the Gap reports. Bill Shorten has mentioned Indigenous incarceration in each of his responses to the Closing the Gap report. But our current system isn't serving taxpayers and it isn't serving the most disadvantaged. I'm particularly pleased to be making this announcement alongside Sharryn Howes, somebody who has worked in community services for a decade and who understands firsthand the impact incarceration can have on setting people down the wrong path. What we do when we lock up a fine defaulter is we say to them they don't need to pay their fine. Instead, we'll pay for them to go to jail. The result of that is to increase the chances of somebody re-offending. Sharryn has of course seen first-hand the impact the incarceration can have on young lives.
Labor believes there are smarter solutions to get tough on crime. We're announcing today that a Shorten Labor Government would be put in place a Fine Enforcement Collection Scheme, offering to states and territories the opportunity to use the Commonwealth’s tax and social security system to recover unpaid fines. This builds on past Labor reforms: the HECS-HELP system for university tuition and in using the tax system to recover unpaid child support debts. It’s smart policy. Using the levers available to us to make sure that fine defaulters pay their fines rather than us paying to put them behind bars.
We know that a policy like this could help reduce tragic cases such as that of 22-year-old Ms Dhu who died two years ago in Western-Australian lock-up while serving time for an unpaid $1,000 fine. In Western Australia alone, over 1,000 fine defaulters have been jailed, about half of whom are Aboriginal. So a smart policy like this can make sure that people pay their fines and we don’t lock up people who shouldn’t be behind bars. Right here in Queensland, the state government has well over $200 million in unpaid fines.
A Fine Enforcement Collection Scheme can ensure that those people pay their fines, rather than taxpayers having to pay to lock them up. At a time when government budgets are under threat, the last thing we should be doing is spending unnecessary money locking up fine defaulters. A Fine Enforcement Collection Scheme by a Shorten Labor Government will reduce the jail population, will make sure that taxpayers pay less for jails and make sure that people who have defaulted on their fines are required to pay their debts to society. It’s a smart policy which can help to reduce inequality in Australia, create a fairer society and make sure that fine defaulters actually pay up. I’ll hand over now to Sharryn to say a few words.
SHARRYN HOWES, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR LEICHHARDT: Thank you. Thank you Andrew for visiting Cairns today, we greatly appreciate it. This is a fabulous reform, particularly for our area and in fact, all of the nation. It’s our most vulnerable that are actually being incarcerated for unpaid fines and it doesn’t make sense. If someone owes $2000 to the government and yet it costs $770 per day to incarcerate someone, well after three days they’re in excess of what they owe anyway. So it is a cost-effective way in keeping our vulnerable out of our prison, and I look forward to it.
REPORTER: Sharryn, I know our local jail here, they've had a few strikes about having too many people in the local jail. Is that something you've been aware of and have you been speaking to local unions or anything like that about it?
HOWES: Yes, I am aware of it and as a community service worker in Kuranda, we see a lot of young people, particularly indigenous people, being incarcerated. But there's no transitional support for those people coming out of prison. So, they don't have a home, they don't have a job, they don't have support services. So what tends to happen is they reoffend and go back in again. So rather than having a transitional support program in place to help people from reoffending and getting back in jail, there's a massive gap and that would also help in declining the number of prisoners going into prison
REPORTER: That would also cost a bit of money. What kind of things are we looking at here?
HOWES: So we would definitely need more support services, it means we need more social housing, it means we need more of a case-management holistic approach to helping people because people often have multiple barriers. Literacy, numeracy, homelessness, maybe mental health. It depends on that person however, a holistic approach is really needed to support people. So obviously services. More social support services locally.
LEIGH: The changes that Sharryn has talked about, that notion of justice reinvestment, can be facilitated by a smart policy like the Fine Enforcement Collection Scheme. Let's make sure that we spend less on incarceration and frees up government money in order to reduce crime in the community.
REPORTER: Sharryn, can I get a comment from you about Katter's recent campaign ad. What do you think as a federal candidate?
HOWES: It's absolutely appalling and honestly I think, the words, I actually can't find the words, I just think it's absolutely disgusting given what's happened in Orlando. Mind you, maybe it will be the only way that Katter might win his seat. But yes, disgusted.
REPORTER: There's been calls for him to stand down. Is that something you would support? Or do you think that's a bit extreme as well?
HOWES: Oh I think that's a matter for, you know, his party to determine.
LEIGH: Thanks very much.
REPORTER: Thank you.
HOWES: Thank you.