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State Government must waive COVID-19 fines handed out to 2000 Victorian children

A coalition of forty Victorian youth advocates, legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services and other organisations have today called on the State Government to withdraw an estimated $3 million in COVID-19 fines handed out to around 2000 children and young people during the pandemic.

The Smart Justice for Young People (SJ4YP) coalition says that excessive fines are punishing young people who have already suffered significantly due to the pandemic and will bear the impacts on their employment, education and mental health for years to come.

“Lumping children and young people with enormous fines only creates stress and anxiety during arguably the most difficult year of their lives,” said Tiffany Overall, SJ4YP spokesperson.

“Asking children, young people and their families to pay a $1652 fine on top of all the challenges COVID-19 has presented with job loss, disrupted education and social isolation is cruel and unnecessary. If unpaid, there is the risk that these young people will be pulled into the justice system.

“We know that many young people received multiple fines that they will never be able to repay.”

Victoria Police data from September 2020 revealed that 16,565 COVID-related fines had been issued, of which 1,403 were handed out to under 18 year olds, and 4,298 to 18-24year olds. The SJ4YP coalition understands that the official number is now over 2000 for under 18-year-olds, and over 9,000 for 18 to 24-year-olds. The amount of COVID-19 fines can vary from $200 to $5000.

“A health-based response that uses warnings and education to help young people understand health advice would have been far more effective and compassionate,” Tiffany added.

SJ4YP praised the Victorian Government for using an evidence-based approach to keeping the community safe from COVID-19, and urged them to extend that response to how they deal with children and young people in breach of the rules.

“We understand completely that this has been an unprecedented and challenging year. But the fact is, fining kids doesn’t keep them safe. The COVID-19 rules are changing regularly, and the young people we work with often aren’t aware of the latest advice.

“We are helping many young people who received fines while they were homeless, experiencing mental health episodes, recently arrived in Australia with little or no English, and those in residential care,” said Tiffany.

“I don’t believe any Victorian would support fining children millions of dollars during a pandemic. It’s time to show compassion and reverse these fines.”

In addition to all fines being waived for children and young people under 18, SJ4YP is calling for fairness, leniency and compassion for young people aged 18 to 25 and a waiver or review of their fines, particularly if they have experienced disadvantage, mental illness and health problems.

About YSAS

The Youth Support + Advocacy Service (YSAS) is Australia’s largest, youth-specific community service organisation. Operating since 1998 as Victoria’s flagship Youth Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) service, YSAS now employs over 350 skilled staff across 19 sites in metropolitan and regional Victoria. While YSAS continues to provide effective Youth AOD services, the organisation also has extensive experience in providing young people and families with services that support improved mental health and meaningful community participation.

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