Kids aged between 10 to 17 have been slapped with AU$2.1 million (US$1.5 million) in fines since July 1 last year, according to data from New South Wales (NSW) Police in Australia’s most populous state.
The data obtained under information laws by the Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) found 2,920 fines were issued, with around 59 percent of fines costing between $1,000 to $5,000.
Around 17 children were issued with a $5,000 fine, 39 with a $3,000 fine, and 1,659 with $1,000 fines.
Under state public health orders, fines can be issued for breaches of previous COVID-19 health regulations including not wearing a mask, breaking curfew, and straying from the allowed 5 kilometre radius of the home.
“The issuing of a penalty notice should be a measure of last resort, especially where children are concerned,” Samantha Lee, the Redfern Legal Centre’s police accountability solicitor, said in a press release.
“Hefty monetary penalties issued to children hit families hard, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. RLC has been assisting many people who have been issued with COVID-19 fines, including children.”
A $5,000 fine is triple the cost of a penalty that the Children’s Court can legally impose—the maximum is $1,100.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, the maximum penalty for children under 15 is $181.74, while for children aged 15 to 18, the maximum is $726.96.
The RLC was further concerned that many fines were already at the enforcement stage, which could result in orders such as community service (up to 100 hours), restrictions on obtaining a driver licence, registering a vehicle, and booking or taking a driving test.
Nadine Miles, the acting CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Centre (NSW/ACT), accused police of failing to “exercise their discretion” in dealing with young people, particularly Aboriginal communities.
“Some of the children we are assisting received multiple $1000 fines in a single day,” she said.
“Crushing fines only exacerbate the significant disadvantage that many of our young clients already face. The Aboriginal Legal Centre continues to call for all COVID-19 fines issued to children under 18 to be withdrawn or converted to formal cautions.”
NSW Police would not comment on the figures obtained under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009.
The Centre, RLC, and 33 other organisations have signed an open letter calling on the state’s Finance Minister Damien Tudehope and Attorney-General Mark Speakman to introduce a four-month stay on enforcement action on COVID-19 fines during the holidays.
The news comes after data obtained from the NSW Treasury revealed that authorities had issued 53,456 fines over the course of the Delta variant outbreak from June 25, to the value of AU$48.87 million (US$35.02 million).
In terms of age groups, 19 to 29-year-olds were the most likely to attract a fine with 21,538 infringements, followed by the 30 to 39 age group (12,279), 40 to 49 (8,900), 50 to 59 (4,740), and under 18s (3,095).