Tuesday 25 October 2022, 8:00 am
The Aboriginal Legal Service has re-issued its call for COVID fines to be cancelled following the release of a damning independent review into Australia’s response to the pandemic.
The review is highly critical of the unequal impact of COVID policies on disadvantaged people, accusing governments and law enforcement of overreach by enforcing rules “in ways that lacked fairness and compassion”.
“The Aboriginal Legal Service is still working overtime to support people who are struggling with the financial burden of overdue COVID fines. The majority of our fines clients have been forced onto payment plans they can’t afford. Others have had their licences suspended, which puts their employment at risk,” said Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited.
Ms Warner called on the NSW Government to cancel all COVID fines.
“At this point there is ample proof that COVID fines have been applied unevenly and often erroneously. Instead of supporting our communities through a difficult period, they’ve made life even harder for Aboriginal people who were already living on the breadline. These fines simply can’t stand,” she said.
The independent review found that “people experiencing social inequalities or particular vulnerabilities in our community suffered unnecessarily” and “paid a higher cost” as a result of government responses to COVID.
This finding reflects data released in February 2022 which revealed Walgett, Brewarrina, Wilcannia, Coonamble and Bourke to be the top 5 postcodes for COVID fines per capita – all regional areas with lower-than-average household income and higher-than-average Aboriginal populations.
“Revenue NSW has rightly written off thousands of COVID fines issued to children under 18 which were unlikely to ever be paid. There’s nothing stopping the NSW Government from making amends for the harm caused to communities by cancelling all remaining COVID fines,” Ms Warner said.
The independent review was undertaken by Peter Shergold AC, Jillian Broadbent AC, Isobel Marshall and Peter Varghese AO, and funded by the John & Myriam Wylie Foundation, the Minderoo Foundation and the Paul Ramsay Foundation.
Media contact: Alyssa Robinson - [email protected] - 0427 346 017
‘Fault lines: An independent review into Australia’s response to COVID-19’ is available online at https://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2022-10/apo-nid320067_0.pdf.