Debt collectors for $17 million in unpaid SPER fines
ROCKHAMPTON fine evaders owe the Queensland Government more than $17 million.
But their dodging days are over as the government enlists the help of debt collectors.
About 7000 people owe more than $17 million under the SPER debt.
In 2012, Rockhampton debtors also owed about $17 million in SPER fines. About $11 million of that was court fines.
Reforms to the State Penalties Enforcement Registry (SPER) Act passed through Parliament mid-year enabled debt collection agents to be contracted to step in and deal with people not paying fines received from police, courts and councils.
A SPER spokesman 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.
A spokeswoman for Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls said they were stepping up a legislative reform program.
"These reforms will reduce the outstanding debt and will also send a clear message ... to debtors who have the financial capacity to pay their fines but choose not to," she 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".
In a submission in July to a government crime inquiry, the Queensland Law Society suggested the SPER system was flawed. Society 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.
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 new Act stated.
There will be a staged implementation with the new model fully in place by July 2015.
WHAT WE OWE
City: Total number of debtors, total debt per region
South Rockhampton and The Keppels: 2335 $5,349,216
North Rockhampton: 4722 $11,853,605