City's felons rack up $16.8m in unpaid fines

MORE than 10,000 of Toowoomba's SPER fine evaders will soon feel the heat of Queensland Government-contracted debt collectors.

The debtors owe the government $16.8 million.

Reforms to the State Penalties Enforcement Act passed through parliament mid-year enabling debt collection agents to be contracted to step in and deal with people not paying fines received from police, courts and councils.

The State Penalties Enforcement Registry said the number of unpaid fines had "significantly" increased, due to a growing population and because automatic red light and speed cameras were catching more people.

The registry said its debt pool was likely to reach $1 billion in 2016-17 if no changes were made.

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A spokeswoman for Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls said they were stepping up a legislative reform program to combat this.

"These reforms will reduce the outstanding debt and will also send a clear message to the community that enough is enough when it comes to debtors who have the financial capacity to pay their fines but choose not to," the spokeswoman said.

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said he had no problem with the legislation changes, so long as people were not thrown in jail for being poor.

He suggested the government use the HECS model university students used.

The Queensland Law Society(correct) suggested the SPER system was flawed in a submission in July to a government crime inquiry.

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President Ian Brown criticised arrest and imprisonment warrants for debtors, saying people were denied natural justice as they were not required to appear before court to explain why they could not pay.

He noted the Victorian court system also had options to not only jail, but discharge fines for debtors with mental or intellectual impairments or in special circumstances, and adjourn hearings for up to six months.

While there will be extra costs in contracting more debt collectors, the government expected this would be "more than offset by the increased revenue," the Revenue Legislation Amendment Bill stated.

There will be a staged implementation with the new model fully in place by July 2015.

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