There came in the mail a rare thing – a ‘Go Fast Award’ or speeding fine. In this case, a speed camera captured our Ford Territory in transit on Caloundra Road (off Steve Irwin Way leading into Landsborough). Oh, you know that road too?
The infringement notice alleges the vehicle was doing 68kmh in a 60kmh zone. Fair enough, those are the road rules and I broke them.
“Tch, tch,” said She Who Never Speeds, consulting her diary to confirm that it was me, not she, who was driving at the time the award was made. “You might get in trouble using their photo,” she added.
Their photo my arse!
The speeding fine is $168 and I will also accrue one demerit point on a previously unsullied drivers’ licence. No big deal, you’d think. Alas, this will put a dent in my personal spending money, the next tranche of which is not due until January 1.
“You should complain!” said She Who Never Speeds, “What about that money tucked away in your TAB account? Imagine if you were on Newstart!”
I did some homework on the Queensland Treasury offshoot called the State Penalties Enforcement Register (SPER), which will come to an arrangement if you can’t pay fines by the due date.
Debts registered with SPER come from a wide pool of infringement notices and court orders. Every now and then one of the tabloids will spice up a slow news day with a beat-up drawn from statistics kept by SPER. The most common tactic is to focus on which postcode boasts the biggest SPER debt.
The ‘Struggle Street’ approach uncovers Logan City/Kingston, the Gold Coast and surrounds and Ipswich/Booval as the regions with the highest SPER debt (all-up tally $73.56 million). By stark contrast, the postcode 4468 (Morven, (near Augathella), has a SPER debt of just $7000. The postcode 4025 (Moreton Island) is another with a low SPER debt of $15,000 (people hooning about the sand dunes in 4WDs, no doubt).
The lower numbers in such isolated places may indicate fewer drivers and/or a more law-abiding population. The truth is rather more prosaic – an absence of speed cameras. It is no coincidence that the suburbs with the highest SPER debt are those in proximity to motorways and heavily trafficked main roads.
There’s no way to dress up SPER’s unhappy bottom line. As of October 2017, SPER debts totalled $1.20 billion. Treasurer Curtis Pitt told the ABC in May that SPER debts had doubled over five years to more than 1.5 million new cases. The Labor government has blamed the increase on the previous LNP regime, for loading up SPER debts with unpaid tolls from bridges and tunnels.
You can get some sense of how long it might take SPER to rein in this runaway debt by looking at its collection rate ($283 million in 2016-2017 and $93 million for the five months to October). Nevertheless SPER managed to keep growth of the debt pool down to 3% (compared to 15% in 2015-2016).
If you will allow me to illustrate the SPER dilemma for low-income Queenslanders, consider an unemployed person existing on the paltry fortnightly payment provided by Newstart. SPER will probably settle for $20 a fortnight, automatically taken from the welfare recipient’s payment.
As Harriet (not her real name) bewailed of her most recent speeding fine, “It will take me 10 years to repay all this (expletive) debt and in the meantime I keep getting (more expletives) what you call Go Fast Awards. You smug bastard!”
But wait. While Harriet emulates her pet fox terrier’s habit of chasing its tail, SPER has come up with a new scheme to help people suffering genuine hardship.
From today, Queenslanders facing hardship can apply for Work and Development Orders (WDOs). People unable to repay accumulated fines and penalties will be able to clear their debts by attending counselling or education courses. Previously the only recourse was to perform unpaid community work.
WDO is a case management system which considers a person’s whole debt history and circumstance rather than just focusing on individual debt.
WDOs will be available to people who are experiencing domestic or family violence, are homeless or under financial hardship, or those with a mental illness, intellectual or cognitive disability or serious substance use disorder.
A SPER spokesperson said WDOs would replace the Fine Option Order system, with debts reduced at a rate of $30 an hour. Participants are allowed to work up to 33 hours per month.
SPER will now partner with government and community-based sponsors who will manage people undertaking financial or other counselling, education, vocational or life skills courses, and unpaid community work.
The Community Service scheme was first introduced in Toowoomba in the mid-1980s as an alternative to fines and custodial sentences. Courts order offenders to complete a set number of hours of supervised community work. Those who do not complete their ‘hours’ get breached and are liable to be re-sentenced for the original offence.
The 2016-2017 Attorney-General’s annual report cites examples of the kind of unpaid work offenders may be required to do. In the Southern Region, offenders from Ipswich Probation and Parole can now perform community service making paper or crochet poppies for donation to local Councils and RSLs (for events such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day).
In the Brisbane region, 17 offenders spent eight days over a period of four weeks repairing and painting the Sandgate-Redcliffe District Cricket Club’s fence. A total of 271 hours was spent working with club members to repair damaged palings and apply two coats of paint to approximately 1km of fencing.
In 2016–17, a total of 371,262 hours of court-ordered community service was completed in Queensland, equating to a value of approximately $9.1 million. While this equates to less than 1% of SPER debt resolved in 2016-2017, the community benefits are hard to dispute. The social merits of WDOs are also laudable, although some would see this as being ‘soft on crime.’
Meanwhile, what about the speeding fine issued to She Who Never Speeds, due for payment by December 19?
If you are one of the thousands of Queenslanders who got caught by a speed camera either exceeding the limit or running a red light, you know how this goes. The ‘ticket’ goes to the owner of the registered vehicle. If he/she was not the driver at the time the alleged offence was committed, the owner fills out a statutory declaration stating he/she was not the driver. If She Who Never Speeds sends the statutory declaration in a week or so before the due date, by the time a new infringement notice is sent out to the driver (me), the fine will not have to be paid until (guessing) the end of January, 2018.
In the interim, I’m wondering if I can wangle an informal WDO with SWNS – we pay the fine out of general housekeeping and I will carry out 5.6 hours of (supervised) heavy gardening. People who know what She once did for a living will find this wryly amusing.