By Michael Giles
A FEATURE of Magistrate Court lists across the state, day-in day-out, is the number of people appearing to seek relief from the crippling fines and costs associated with unpaid Citylink and Eastlink tolls.
It is estimated that there could be as much as $800 million in unpaid toll warrants sloshing around in the system.
Of course, anyone who travels on these toll roads should know that they need to have an eTag, a toll account or at least have paid the appropriate fees before or soon after they travel.
And we are told by Citylink that they make reasonable efforts to recover the fees before handing the matter over to Civic Compliance – which is where the problems really start escalating.
But the fact is that some people aren’t quite as organised or as logical as that, for one of a number of reasons.
And quite often you’ll see people with serious mental health issues, either on-going or temporary, who have fallen foul of the system, or drug addicts trying to get clean, who finally find their way into the courts looking for help.
They are often at the end of their tether by the time they get there, having weathered considerable financial and family hardship along the way while they worry about debts of $10,000, $20,000 or even $100,000, although these often include traffic and possibly other offences.
The fact is though, that the penalties, processing costs and interest added on by Civic Compliance are completely unrealistic and well beyond the ability of most people to pay.
There’s also the cost of getting psych and health reports, plus a lawyer (often paid for by Legal Aid) when making application for relief; the cost of which is often being met by the taxpayer.
“It’s bureaucracy gone crazy,” as Korumburra Magistrate Simon Garnett so eloquently put it last Thursday and it’s appropriate that the State Government is doing something about it.
We have been contacted by the Attorney General Martin Pakula today to say that the Andrews Government is introducing a range of measures to address exactly this situation; reducing the hardships on vulnerable individuals, reducing the load on the courts and bringing responsibility for enforcement of fines under a new body.
We will be watching to see if it works to improved what has developed into a wicked system.