Hefty Fines

Reporter: Georgia Main

Finding a car park is a nightmare to which all of us can relate, but not many of us would park our car illegally -- every day.Melissa Jaworski has only held a full licence for three years, but the 21-year- old soon grew tired of looking for a car park every morning -- so she parked anywhere she could, day after day after day.

Ignoring 152 parking fines issued by officers in Geelong on the Victorian surf coast, she's stacked up $32,105 in warrants. Some days, she would cop two fines -- prompting Magistrate Michael Coghlan to say, "She continuously couldn't give a rats, so it seems...".Melissa blames the town's lack of parking for her troubles. Her reasoning doesn't even wash with the man, paid to defend people like Melissa -- traffic lawyer Sean Hardy. "That's a pretty poor excuse", Sean said.

"If it's just laziness and obstinateness you're not going to get anywhere in court -- you may get a bit of a discount if you beg hard enough", he added. There's between 600 and 800 car spots vacant at any one stage, at any one time, in Geelong", said Geelong Mayor, John Mitchell. He has little sympathy. "It's a painful lesson isn't it? $32,000 is a lot of money in anyone's language -- it could be a deposit for a house or a new car", he said.

In fact, for the price of her debt, Melissa could have parked for 4,571 days in a $7 a day car park which is just around the corner from her office. When news of the debt hit the headlines, Melissa became a Facebook celebrity and not so politely declined her newfound notoriety.

If you head down to Geelong on a weekend, the chances are you'll find her working off her debt as part of a community work order -- she's also repaying $150 a fortnight to the Sheriff's office. And if you thought this fine fiasco couldn't get any worse, how's this? A woman borrowed her father's car to drive on Melbourne's Citylink tollway. The problem was she didn't pay the toll -- for several years.

She's clocked up a debt of more than $90,000 and now the sheriff's out to collect. "What makes this case so bad is that this girl is tipping her father in, it's not her car, not registered in her name, she's not the person who could potentially go to jail", said radio commentator Steve Price.He is less than impressed. "We hate paying tolls but that's what they are, they are called toll roads. Have a look at the sign before you drive on the road, you need an E-tag, surely you can't be that stupid you think you're just going to keep driving and driving and no one's going to catch you", Steve added. As the car's owner, the 67-year-old father has been told to cough up $18,000 as well as payments of $750 a month -- which he can't afford.

They join thousands of others battling to pay off their fines and find a solution with authorities. Sean's certainly not short of clients -- the biggest debt from fines to come across his desk was $130,000 -- that's enough to buy a Porsche 911. "it's caused primarily by people who have changed address, then they don't get the reminder notice, infringement notices, they don't get suspension letters, so they think their credit card has been debited for tolls but in reality it's not", Sean said.

"I think we need uniform national laws -- we are now going to punish them by preventing them from renewing their drivers licence -- guess what, you'll pay your fine", Steve said."If you are obstinate about not wanting to pay the money, not wanting to work it off with community work and you have no assets they can sell to recover the debt, jail's almost inevitable", Sean warned.Melissa will be back in court in December to see how she's going with her repayments and community work and our Citylink driver is due in court in a few weeks.