Source: Tom McIlroy – Canberra Times
New laws passed by the Legislative Assembly on Thursday will stop private car park operators from being able to issue fines to Canberra drivers by accessing private information through legal discovery.
Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury said the changes to road transport laws came as a commercial car park operator sought to use an ongoing court case to collect registration information for several hundred drivers, in order to issue fines from a city car park.
The law will come into force before the government would have been required to hand over the information and brings the territory into line with other states and territories. Drivers in Australian capital cities have received parking fines from private operators who have accessed government registration records.
Mr Rattenbury said the changes would protect the privacy of all ACT residents.
Currently registration records and contact details cannot be released by the government in other circumstances, but without the improved powers the government would have been required to hand over records in the case.
“In Canberra, residents have an expectation that the government would not release this kind of information to private companies for a range of purposes,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“We’ve not had any situations yet in the ACT where people have had debt collectors turn up at the door but the government is currently in a court case where a private operator is seeking to obtain this information.”
Mr Rattenbury said private operators using a “pay and display” method for parking fees could not enforce parking fines, unless they applied for authorised parking authority status from the territory government.
He said operators should install boom gates or have staff on site to collect fees. Official parking authorities collect revenue from drivers, while the territory government provides inspectors and collects fine revenue.
Private operators in the ACT have no legal authority to issue their own parking fines. He said the company involved in the current court case had been an authorised parking authority until about a year ago.
“They chose to pursue a different business model, one that relies on the regular accessing of government data and that is not a position I am prepared to accept,” Mr Rattenbury said.
He rejected claims for the Liberal opposition that the government was securing its position as a car park owner.
“At the moment, under the legal discovery process, a private operator is able to obtain that information from government. This amendment specifically creates a situation where the Road Transport Authority cannot be required to release that information to a private entity,” Mr Rattenbury said.
Other changes passed by Assembly members will ban the drinking of alcohol while driving and create new offences for dangerous driving including so-called drifting and handbrake turns.
“This package of changes is consistent with the government’s efforts to reduce the number of deaths and life-changing crashes on our roads and improve road safety for all Canberrans,” Mr Rattenbury said.
He said improved road safety and associated regulation would lead to better privacy and safety protections for all road users.