The Greens are calling for road toll fines to be capped in Victoria, amid a growing backlog of cases in the Magistrate's Court.
Under the proposed legislation introduced to Victorian Parliament last week, motorists won't be hit with more than one road toll fine per week, regardless of how many trips they make.
"At the moment people who drive without paying their tolls for a week can end up with higher fines than they might get for assault, theft or drink driving," said Huong Truong, Greens MP for the Western Metropolitan Region in Victoria.
"This is clogging up our courts and getting in the day of them dealing with serious offences, like family violence."
"It can also quickly spiral out of control, landing people with debts of tens of thousands of dollars. The Greens believe that people should pay their tolls. But we believe it’s time to make toll fines fairer," she added.
Debts from unpaid toll road fines are a growing problem in the state, with The Age reporting some motorists rack up $2500 in fines per week, leading to debts well beyond $100,000.
The Green use the example of a motorist who drives on a toll road for a week without paying, which equates to a higher fine than if you committed assault, theft, or drink driving. Each day adds between $160-$367 in fines, adding up to the aforementioned sum of up to $2500 per week.
Additionally, motorists may be unaware of the fines they're racking up if the notices are being sent to an old address, or if they're homeless.
Minister for roads and road safety in Victoria, Luke Donnellan, says the Victorian Government has already proposed changes to toll road fines as part of the West Gate Tunnel Project Agreement – including doubling the amount of time drivers have to pay them – but the Greens are opposed.
"As part of the West Gate Tunnel Project Agreement, we’ve negotiated a fairer deal for drivers on toll infringements, including doubling the amount of time drivers have to settle unpaid tolls before matters are referred to Fines Victoria, limiting the number of infringements that can be issued to a driver to one per week and extending hardship provisions," Mr. Donnellan said.
"Unfortunately, the Greens have indicated that they intend to oppose the measures."
Changes included in the reforms include the same one infringement weekly cap proposed by Ms. Truong, along with requesting the state enforcement agency to discontinue or suspend infringement or court proceedings if a person applies for and is eligible for hardship consideration.
Currently, around half of all fines in Victoria that reach the enforcement stage are for driving on Citylink and Eastlink without paying tolls. During 2014-15, the most common charge heard by the Magistrates' Court was unpaid Citylink tolls.
The Royal Commission into Family Violence expressed concerns that issues like fines are taking up too much time in the Magistrates’ Court – time needed for dealing with family violence matters, for example.
Greens MP for the Western Metropolitan Region in Victoria, Huong Truong, introduced the bill to parliament last week. At this stage, the government is yet to state what it thinks of the bill – Victorian parliament is on winter break until July 24.