Lawyer: Career crims don't fear fines, avoid volunteer work
"FINES to be referred to SPER."
It's one of the most common phrases heard in our courts as repeat offenders make a $20million mockery of our justice system.
Despite being regularly fined hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars per crime, a growing number of offenders in Hervey Bay and Maryborough appear disinterested in paying up.
Earlier this month, the Chronicle reported on 18-year-old Timothy Kane Cameron who racked up $13,154 in fines from one court appearance.
The full amount was referred to State Penalties Enforcement Registry, which is effectively the government's debt collector for unpaid fines.
While penalties for unpaid fines can eventually open the offender to legal action, loss of licence and property, one of the region's leading criminal defence lawyers, John Willett, explained this was little deterrent for career criminals.
"As many of the recidivist offenders do not have drivers' licences and often don't own any substantial items of property, payments to SPER can become a low priority," Mr Willett said.
"I have acted for offenders with SPER debts of up to $30,000, which had been accumulated over a period of years."
People with SPER debts may be eligible to complete community service instead to make repayments at a rate of $30 an hour.
This includes feeding animals, mowing and cleaning cages, at the Maryborough Animal Refuge and cleaning and sorting donated goods at the Hervey Bay Op Shop.
But Mr Willet told the Chronicle this option was rarely taken up by offenders with some even preferring jail time over squaring their debts.
Fed up with the system, Howard Community Centre President Faye Whiffin wants courts to get tougher on offenders.
"(Debt owners) have no sense of obligation and don't see that they have a debt to the community," Ms Whiffin said.
"The $30 per hour rate for community work is a huge amount compared to how much people get from a job, after tax."
Ms Whiffin wants the millions of dollars owed to the state to be returned to the region, particularly in improving resources for police.
"Just in Howard we have been trying to get a second police car for years," she said.
"There needs to be public humiliation for people who do not do the right thing."
The Chronicle asked Queensland Treasury how many Fraser Coast debtors have been subject to disciplinary action such as a loss of a licence, but the department was unable to provide statistics.
Not all debtors have been convicted of criminal offences.
SPER is also responsible for the collection and enforcement of unpaid infringement notice fines, court-ordered penalties, offender debt recovery orders and offender levies.
Mr Willet said it was also important to note that not everyone did the wrong thing.
He said major fines did work as deterrents for some, particularity those who had never been in trouble with the law before.
"My experience is that hefty fines have more of a deterrent effect on first time offenders as opposed to recidivist offenders," he said.
"I find that people who are genuine about their rehabilitation take orders of the Court seriously, including paying off fines."