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Thousands of Australians who were slapped with fines for breaching Covid rules could soon get their money back as an investigation is launched into whether some of the penalties were lawful.
Victoria’s Department of Justice and Community Safety confirmed that a bureaucratic bungle that saw $60million worth of fines handed out is now under reviewed.
About 39,000 long-suffering residents were hit with $1,652 on-the-spot fines when Melbourne endured the world’s longest lockdown.
But many of the the harsh penalties implemented by Dan Andrews’ government were dished out by authorised officers – not police – who may not have had the legal power to do so.
WHAT IS AN AUTHORISED OFFICER?
An Authorised Officer (AO) is an employee of the department, appointed by the Minister or Secretary to carry out a compliance or enforcement function under legislation administered by the department.
AOs have the power to conduct patrols, inspections and intelligence operations; they also educate the community about Victoria’s earth resources and primary industries.
Types of AOs working for regulators in the department include: Animal health officers, Biosecurity officers, Chemical standards officers, Plant standards officers, Veterinary officers
During Victoria’s Covid lockdowns Authorised Officers worked with Industry bodies, Victoria Police and WorkSafe to undertake enforcement and compliance including handing out fines.
‘We are currently reviewing our administration processes relating to the appointment of a small number of Authorised Officers and the issuing of some enforcement outcomes under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act,’ The Department of Justice and Community Safety said in statement.
‘If the review were to identify any issues, the Department would then work to confirm whether any enforcement outcomes are affected.’
More to come.