Civil society organisations call for Christmas pause on COVID fine collection to reduce hardship

Public Interest Advocacy Centre

A coalition of legal and civil society organisations have called for a four month pause on COVID fine enforcement action, as new figures reveal communities with high numbers of people facing disadvantage have been hit with the most fines, and real doubts about whether many have been issued correctly and fairly.

Statistics obtained by Redfern Legal Centre reveal that almost 50,000 COVID-19 fines were issued for breaches of Public Health Orders, with more than one third remaining unpaid.

Ninety nine per cent of these unpaid fines have been escalated to enforcement, which can include suspension of drivers’ licences, cancellation of vehicle registration, seizure of property, deduction of wages or court summons.

These figures have come to light as legal services report that a significant proportion of their clients have been fined in circumstances when they appear not to have committed an offence (for example where they had a ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave their home) or would have been more appropriately cautioned or given a direction.

The groups are particularly concerned about the disproportionate impact of Public Health Order fines on groups already experiencing hardship, such as people experiencing homelessness and people with psychosocial disability.

The top 7 NSW LGAs where PHO fines were issued (adjusted for population size) are Brewarrina, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Moree Plains, Walgett, Bourke and Gunnedah. This also raises concerns about the impact of fines on regional and Aboriginal communities.

Read the open letter to Minister for Finance, Damien Tudehope and Attorney General Mark Speakman at

Jonathon Hunyor, PIAC CEO:

‘We have had real concerns about the heavy-handed and inflexible approach taken by police to issuing COVID fines. We now have many people who will struggle to pay fines and need time to get help and consider their options.’

‘Lockdowns have made it hard for people to get help, particularly in more remote areas. Pausing enforcement action to give people a reprieve over the holiday period would be a fair and compassionate move.’

Joanna Shulman, Redfern Legal Centre CEO:

‘Redfern Legal Centre is deeply concerned about the impact of significant COVID-19 fines on people already experiencing heightened vulnerability. For many of our clients, having additional fines debt over the holidays will have serious consequences.’

‘The data RLC has uncovered clearly shows that a significant number of people are struggling to resolve their fines, many of which we believe have been wrongly issued. We are asking for a reprieve over the holiday period to give people additional time needed to seek advice and obtain a fair and just resolution of their fines.’

Katherine McKernan, Homelessness NSW CEO:

‘People experiencing homelessness, and particularly Aboriginal people experiencing homelessness, are often disproportionately fined and least able to pay these fines. During the COVID lockdown, people experiencing homelessness were also less able to adhere to the stay at home orders and needed support to stay safe from COVID rather than being fined simply because they had nowhere to go.’

Serena Ovens, Physical Disability Council of NSW CEO:

‘People with disability, particularly those of indigenous background, have been disproportionately, and often incorrectly, affected by fines handed out during the COVID pandemic. PDCN calls on the NSW government to pause escalating enforcement procedures and allow those who already experience double disadvantage to seek assistance in addressing unpaid fines.’

Signatories to the open letter:

Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited

AbSec – NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation

Accessible Diversity Services Limited

Animal Defenders Office

Australian Centre for Disability Law

Central Tablelands and Blue Mountains Community Legal Centre

Community Legal Centres NSW

CORE Community Services

Council for Intellectual Disability

Counterpoint Community Services


Far West Community Legal Centre

First Peoples Disability Network (Australia)

Homelessness NSW

Inner Sydney Voice

Intellectual Disability Rights Service

Kingsford Legal Centre

Macarthur Legal Centre

Mid North Coast Legal Centre

Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency (MECA)

Muslim Women Australia

NSW Council of Social Service

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre

North & North West Community Legal Service

Penrith Disabilities Resource Centre (PDRC)

Physical Disability Council of NSW

Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Redfern Legal Centre
Refugee Advice and Casework Service

Regional Disability Advocacy Service

South Eastern Community Connect (SECC)

South West Sydney Legal Centre

St Vincent de Paul Society NSW

Sydney Community Forum

SydWest Multicultural Services

The Fact Tree Youth Service

Warra Warra Legal Service

Women’s Domestic Court Advocacy Service

Youth Action

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).