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Children fined during the pandemic in NSW

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A report found that 3,628 children were fined during the pandemic in NSW, impacting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Children fined pandemic

Thousands of young people and children were fined in the pandemic for breaching COVID-19 restrictions in NSW, a new report has found.

Several public health orders (PHO) were enforced in NSW between 2020 and 2022, including periods of COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Researchers from UNSW, UTS and the University of Wollongong (UoW) examined PHO breaches by 10 to 17-year-olds during the pandemic.

They found that 3,628 children were issued fines, while First Nations and disadvantaged children were “disproportionately” fined.

Children fined in the pandemic

More than half the fines issued to children were $1,000 penalties for PHO breaches, like travelling outside a 5km radius during a lockdown or not having a “reasonable excuse” for being out.

However, some young people received penalties of up to $5,000.

This is more than the maximum amount young people can be fined in the NSW Children’s Court — $1,100.

Report author Dr. Julia Quilter said: “Kids have no or little capacity to pay fines.”

Disadvantage

The report found breaches were disproportionately issued to children from disadvantaged groups.

This included First Nations communities, young people with disability, and children experiencing homelessness, or unsafe home environments.

For example, one teenage girl in NSW was issued eight COVID-related fines totalling thousands of dollars. The teen was living in out-of-home care and had been diagnosed with autism and ADHD.

“Policing kids by issuing heavy fines during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted, in extreme form, the problems with our fines system more generally.”

Report author Dr. Julia Quilter

LGAs

The report argued suburbs with poorer residents were over-policed during the pandemic.

Many Sydney suburbs with high rates of disadvantage also recorded the highest rates of fines issued to children. In regional NSW, Dubbo recorded the most fines issued to children.

Here are the top five NSW local government areas (LGAs) where children received the most fines.

Reforms

The report was commissioned by Redfern Legal Centre, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), and the NSW/ACT Aboriginal Legal Service. The organisations are calling for the NSW youth justice system to be overhauled.

PIAC CEO Jonathon Hunyor said fines create debts, amplify disadvantage, and build “distrust in the system.”

The report recommended NSW stop issuing fines to children, or consider a minimum age for fine recipients of 16. It also suggested capping penalties for underage people at around $40.

Revenue NSW

In 2023, around 2,000 PHO fines issued to children were either withdrawn or written off (scrapped).

There are currently 45 unresolved pandemic-related fines that were issued to children. Revenue NSW is in the process of reviewing these fines.

A NSW Government spokesperson told TDA that Revenue NSW offers financial hardship “resolution options” like payment plans.

They said: “Under certain circumstances, Revenue NSW will withdraw fines or write-off debts.”

Response

NSW Police defended its presence in “LGAs of Concern” where there were high rates of fines for children during the pandemic.

It said “a compliance and enforcement response” was required in areas “nominated by NSW Health”.

Police said efforts to limit movement and “ensure compliance” with health orders were required to “reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and protect the community.”

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