Dog days at Ballarat

Penalties

The film Fury that I reviewed here was one I saw in Ballarat. I remember stopping at Creswick on the Midland Highway on the way back home for lunch in the sun. I ordered a pie and a milk drink. The drink arrived after five minutes. Five minutes later, I inquired about the pie. ‘We are just warming it up.’ In a take-away café on the Midland Highway? A bloody pie? Woe is Creswick.

Alas, things are worse in the big smoke at Ballarat. When I got back to my car after the movie, it had a parking ticket. I immediately wrote a polite note saying that it had been issued in error. The letter was as follows.

I enclose infringement notice 72083850 given in error today.

I parked in the relevant Bay 3 at about 10.12 and paid into the machine the full three hours. The machine told me it was good until 1.15. I recall it well, because I was going to the movies two blocks away at 10 am, and had driven around a little to find a meter which would safely allow me to see the film. I attach the ticket to the film, showing an end at 12.29. I was back at the car by about 12.40.

I do not know how the error occurred in the machine, but if I had been given a ticket to display, we would not be having this discussion.

The other reason I recall this well is that I had fed another meter $3 before I realised that street had a I hour cap.

I would be glad if you could ensure that the ticket is withdrawn.

I got no response and concluded that the issue was dead – I could not produce the ticket I bought because that machine did not issue them, as the better ones do. Then I got a follow up notice demanding extra fees – unlawfully – so I responded with another note enclosing a copy of that referred to above.

I have now received a polite response delivered with lightning speed – within a week of receipt of my second letter. That response says:

The matter has been reviewed taking into account your written request and a report submitted by the issuing Traffic Officer. The decision to serve the Parking Infringement Notice has been reviewed by the Manager Community Amenity and the Coordinator of Parking Services. The outcome of the review is that the decision to serve the Parking Infringement Notice is confirmed and as such the fine must be paid. Please note the agency fees of $23.80 have been waived.

The letter politely tells me they may take further action, or I might refer the matter to court.

What could be fairer? I have been given a hearing by something like a court of appeal – a manager, a coordinator, and an officer. Well, what would have been fairer for them would have been for them to have given some reasons for their decision, which in substance entails preferring the word of a machine to the word of a citizen. All they do is to say that they have reviewed the matter and come to a decision. They do not say why, or if they thought that I was dreaming or just making it up.

Was there something about what I said that struck them as odd? Is this the way for a government agency to behave when it uses machines that encourage this kind of error when it has access to those machines that make this kind of dispute impossible? I am not criticising the relevant officers – I am criticising every part of a system that makes public servants act judicially when they are not trained for that purpose, and the whole of our constitutional history says that it is wrong.

Well, you might say, I have the option of going to court. This is, if you like, a Magna Carta right. Not before my peers, but someone independent of the triumvirate that has made the present ruling. This right is eight hundred years old this year, and it is important in protecting us against government. Government officers do after all have an interest in protecting the sources of revenue from which they are paid.

So I could go to Ballarat, an hour each way. If I was lucky enough to get on in three hours that would be five hours plus petrol. If I was a tradesman charging $80 and hour, the opportunity cost would be $400 – more than seven times the fine. If I were a heart surgeon, the costs could be a lot higher.

That is the kind of dull oppression that led me some years ago to pen the attached note on how we are surrendering our rights. The easiest thing to do is to pay and tell the people at the Regent Cinema and Scott’s over the road that they have lost a customer. Those governing their city have different views on amenity. They greatly prefer their dollars over the interests of those who wish to visit their city and patronise their merchants. It is after all not unheard of in this country for government to be acting directly contrary to the interests of small business. And Ballarat is famous for officers of the law going after bits of paper and checking that government fees have been paid. A significant part of the city’s revenues comes from people who visit the shrine of the rebellion at Eureka.

Read on for the 2009 note on penalties.

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