Susan CarewSusan Carew is a CLA member dedicated to values education and social empowerment. She has clowned with Patch Adams in Russia, in hospitals and on the streets, and in 2008 undertakes further peace and conflict studies in Thailand. Here, she tells how truth brings its own reward, and suggests the ethics of parking fines are a civil liberties issue. What do you think?

Willing but unable to pay?  Is that fine?

Background: The issue was that I parked in a spot that I believed to be legal.   I even got out of my car and checked.  It was dark and I had been at a nightclub around the corner.  I was surprised to find a parking ticket. I started up a dialogue with the Council and raised issues that if the parking sign is not visible or within the section of road I was parked.  I noted that I couldn’t afford the fine (25% of income) and did not have the intention to break the law.  I conveyed that this surely is grounds for waiving the fine.  The police tend to use discretion but not Councils.   This raised the ire of social justice and equity issues.   Eventually they offered me a plan or court, however my current income is on the poverty line.  Not a happy clown.

To CLA:   Just realised, and laughed, and thought I’d have to tell you! I have heard nothing from the Council re: the court case over my parking ticket.  I think it is dropped.  I suspect because I didn’t refuse to pay, just couldn’t pay and offered to do community service instead (I even offered to perform for them at their office Christmas party, or for kids).

So my lesson from this is the truth is always the way and to work with others as partners rather than ‘us and them’.  I treated the people at the Council with respect and just reaffirmed what I felt was true.

I do think however, that fines are way too high and the pressure that they impose on those unfunded is stressful and is bullying by applying threats of fines and actions.

I’d like to see an approach that is more empathetic and community-oriented to people on low incomes or special circumstances, and with respect.

There is much pressure out there in the community.  Many people are struggling financially, and aggressive letters regarding fines only exacerbate tensions and negative associations with local government.

I think it is fair to say that they are revenue-raising.  The parking fine system restricts the use of a public good such as public space (evening hours, restricted time zones) and encroaches on civil liberties (rigidities in the freedom to move).

It would be interesting if public forums on parking fines were organised to discuss how to solve problems of utilisation of space, to balance the freedom of movement (restricted parking times), public space with social justice considerations.

Many times I’ve chosen not to meet with someone because the times are too restricted, I can’t afford to stay or don’t want to be thinking about the meter.  Moreover, a flat fine is inequitable for those living in poverty, they are paying proportionately higher than the wealthier quartiles and the amount may mean the difference between eating and not eating or paying a utility bill.

I also feel it is a powerful issue for civil libertarians to raise their profile in the minds of Australians.  Parking fines is a universal issue.

All Australians have issues with parking fines – often connecting with people is just finding issues that the majority share and relate to.  So I would encourage CLA to consider a campaign to empower the public in the spirit of working with Councils/Local Government, not ‘against’ them, for there are valuable issues and values to be highlighted.

Perhaps there is a law student at an Australian university who wants to look into issues of equity, civil liberties and parking fines? Just a thought to consider  – Susan Carew.

Photo Susan Carew.

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