Parking Fines: Another Hidden Tax

Imagine you’re walking down the street, a stranger stops you and tells you that you’ve broken the law.  As a responsible citizen you’re shocked and a little rattled, the last thing you wanted to do was to break the law.  The stranger tells you not to worry, just give him $80 and he’ll forget about it and you can relax.  Next, you tell him that you don’t understand, what crime have you committed?  He tells you straight faced that you haven’t committed a crime, but you’ve broken the law so you need to pay him else he’ll take you to court and make you pay him more.

What happens next in this story is an important test of your dignity as a human being: do you pay him the $80 even though you haven’t committed a crime, or do tell him where to go?

Surprisingly, 94% of Victorians, rather than stand up for their own dignity, will hand over $80 just to avoid trouble because they’ve committed such crimes as parking in the street, parking in their own street, parking on the nature’s strip outside their house or even an offence so grave as to park on the curb.

I’m not talking about double parking, parking in clearways or parking in areas where the locals struggle to park their own cars because they just happen to live near a train station or shopping centre.  Those are actually anti-social behaviours and the law makes good sense in those situation, simply because some people being unfairly inconvenienced.  However, I am not talking about those laws, that is laws passed in a constitutionally recognised parliament like the Commonwealth or State governments.  I’m talking about local by-laws made by that level of government most people forget exists: local government.

Local government is actually essential, they look after your garbage, sewerage, kindergartens, libraries, town halls and many of things most people take for granted.  However, they’re desperately underfunded because the constitution gives them no protection from the State government which can cut their budgets, sack their leaders and demolish them at will.  It’s a pretty sorry situation actually and I do believe we ought to respect and take greater care of our local governments.  However, in their desperation they’ve turned to crime.  When the State government gave them power to collect fines from traffic offences they wittingly or unwittingly gave local government the power to arbitrarily extort money from the people they’re meant to serve.  Abusing the titles of ‘government’ and ‘law’ they’ve become a predator on the average Joe too ignorant of the legal system to appreciate he’s being robbed for committing a victimless crime.

Here are three cases I’ve come across in the last 5 years which illustrate this problem:

Case One.

Two people, a man and woman, moved into a new home when only a couple of hours into the day they first started moving in, a ticket appeared on each of their windscreens to welcome them to the neighbourhood with a couple of $80 fines. Charming.  Before you decide to attack the knuckle head who put fines on cars clearly belong to two new residents remember that ticket inspectors risk losing their jobs if they don’t fill a quota. (You might well ask why do they have quotas for these things?)

Both of these people realised quickly that they had to go and collect something called a parking permit from local town hall before they were allowed to park in their own street.  But it was a Friday and after moving in they didn’t have the time until the following Monday.  Over the weekend they each acquired another two tickets.  Once they reached the town hall they were told the fines couldn’t be cancelled, they each had to write to them to ask for their fines to be removed.  That’s not bureaucracy, that’s just legislated rudeness.

Both of these people wrote in explaining they had just moved in.  The woman had her fines cancelled, the man did not.  Their letters were identical with identical explanations.  This isn’t funny, this is a government with too much power.  When right and wrong are just a matter of personal whim for a civil servant then what recourse are a people left with?  Protests?  Vandalism?  Violence?

Case Two.

A resident who has lived in an area for two years came home from work to find there were no free car parks in her street that particular evening.  However, the nature’s strip next to her house and drive way was clear.  This particular nature’s strip was near a road with a solid white line, so rather than break the state law forbidding parking parallel a solid white line she parked on the nature’s strip adjacent to her house.

$80 fine.

Apparently some councils have made it illegal to park on the nature’s strip or with wheels on the curb of the road.  Other councils don’t care.  So it’s a tough judgement to make next time you’re in an unfamiliar suburb and you need a parking space.  It certainly makes one think about the legal convention of “ignorance of the law is no defence for breaking it.”

Nothing dehumanises like victimless crimes

Nothing dehumanises like victimless crimes

Case Three.

A resident in the area for over four years forgets to renew their parking permit.  They get an $80 fine, the next day they go to the council and renew their parking permit and write an apologetic letter.  The council replies with a copy and paste email saying they don’t care and he has to pay it because only locals are allowed to park in his street.  He writes back to them explaining that they’re insane because they issued the fine to the same address the “offence” took place indicating that he had to be a local.  The council wrote back again saying that if he didn’t pay they’d take him to court.

When I did some more investigations I found that only the streets near shopping centres and train station had higher than normal levels of

non-local parking and these areas make up less than 10% of the municipality.  However, 100% of municipal streets had the same draconian parking restrictions.  Any justification for these parking restrictions for the benefit of locals is clearly a smoke-screen and an insult to the intelligence of the locals.  If they wanted to discourage driving and cars again, they need to state that as a policy but that’s not what they’ve done.  It’s purely a case of local councils abusing their power to issue traffic fines.  A power I firmly believe they should be denied simply because the state laws for dealing with people who park in clear ways and busy public areas are sufficient.  The local government does not need to get involved and its involvement appears to be in the role of an extortionist abusing a public office to steal money from people for imaginary crimes.

No one is hurt by the “crimes” mentioned in these three cases except for the people who just wanted to park their car outside their homes.  As I said 94% of Victorians just pay these fines providing an extra $1 billion in local government revenue.  That’s a theft of $1 billion annually from people we elected to look after us. Let me be the first to admit, I’ve been a sheep and never taken my local elections seriously but something needs to change.  The ends do not justify the means.  This hidden form of taxation is unfair, unjust and corrupt.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “only an idiot or a loser would ever get such a parking fine!” because that’s just the kind of dehumanising and anti-social thinking the council depends on people to have so they can get away with this.  If you look out for your fellow human being, they will in most cases look out for you.  But if you’re cynical and callous towards others don’t be surprised when they repay you in kind.

I propose that we each write to our local state MP, don’t bother writing to your local council, they are too corrupt to be trusted, no, instead write to your local state MP and say you believe that local government has become corrupt.  Say that you understand its importance and wish it were properly funded, but this policy of encouraging them to prey on the people they’re meant to serve is creating a growing sense of resentment to those in power.  Don’t assume that this is a wasted effort, we live in a democracy and directly talking to our local representatives is exactly how we’re supposed to promote positive changes in our community.

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Categories: Business, Crime

Author:Jason Sutherland

Resist the temptation to assume that you're always right or wrong. Never succumb to thinking you're so insignificant to trust your own thoughts and feelings. Always be responsible and listen carefully to others before passing judgement. Don't trust governments bearing stolen goods.

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