Bob came to our Goodna Queensland Advice Bureau in 2015. In our discussions with Bob he disclosed that he arrived in Australia from Sri Lanka in 2013 after a harrowing and terrifying boat journey which separated him from his family. Bob was referred to our Advice Bureau by an agency that supports Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the settlement process.
Bob was on a bridging visa while he waited for an invitation to apply for a Temporary Protection Visa. Bob spoke very limited English and was frightened of authority figures. After some long discussions through an interpreter we gained Bob’s trust and he opened up about his past and difficulties since arriving in Australia and in particular why he sought out our advice. Since arriving in Australia Bob had been using his Sri Lankan driver’s license to drive in Queensland. On one such occasion, Bob was randomly stopped by Queensland Police and at that time he was charged with driving unlicensed. Bob received a Notice to Appear in court in relation to that charge and was terrified that when he went to court he would be detained.
The Police who issued the ticket to Bob advised him that he was unable to drive on his Sri Lankan driver licence because Bob had been in Australia longer than three months. Bob, however, did not understand or believe that he had done anything wrong as he had been advised by a government department official that he was allowed to drive in Queensland on his Sri Lankan Driver’s license. Bob had also spoken to several members of his community who also confirmed that they had been told by government officials that they could continue to drive on their international licence. Bob was also concerned that his immigration status in Australia and prospects of settlement could be derailed were he found guilty of a traffic offence.
The practical implication of Bob not being able to drive on his Sri Lankan Driver licence was significant. Specifically, if Bob were to pursue a Queensland Driver licence he would be required to undertake 100 hours of supervised driving which would not only be time consuming but also at a significant expense as Bob would likely have to pay a driving school for this service. Further, while undertaking supervised driving, Bob would be unable to attend work (which was not accessible by public transport). Bob had already found it extremely difficult to obtain employment due to his limited English. Clearly finding employment again with his limited English, coupled with the need for such employment to be accessible by public transport would put Bob at further disadvantage.
Salvos Legal Humanitarian researched the regulations with respect to driving in Queensland on an international license. An assessment of the transport regulations in Queensland identified that the ability to validly drive in Queensland on a foreign licence turned on specific interpretation of the relevant legislation in respect of taking up residence in Queensland, specifically that if a person has not taken up ‘residence’ in Queensland, that person could continue to drive on an international licence. Based upon our interpretation of the legislation, it was clear that Bob had not taken up residence in Queensland.
Our further research indicated that the position Salvos Legal Humanitarian had taken was one that would likely have a significant impact on persons similarly situated as Bob. In that regard, the decision was made to test the legislation before the Magistrates Court in order to have the issue of ‘residence’ clarified.
We appeared for Bob at the local Magistrates Court and sought an adjournment for the purpose of making a Case Conferencing Request to Police Prosecutions with a view to having the charge dismissed. Subsequently, our Case Conferencing Request was submitted to Police Prosecutions. We eagerly awaited word from Police Prosecutions and discussed with colleagues in our Goodna office whether our research was correct, whether our submissions would be accepted and whether Bob would be able to continue driving in Queensland on his Sri Lankan driver’s licence.
After a few days waiting and several nervous phone calls from Bob’s support workers, we received word that Police Prosecutions had accepted our submissions. As a result, the charge against Bob was withdrawn, the case before the Court was dismissed and Bob was free to drive again on the roads in Queensland! Bob was very relieved to hear the good news. This outcome meant that he could continue to drive on his Sri Lankan licence and improve his life in Australia without fear that driving on his Sri Lankan license would negatively impact his future immigration prospects.
We sometimes take certain basic privileges such as driving, for granted. Sometimes we don’t consider the practical impact to a person’s livelihood if they are unable to drive, particularly for someone who lives in remote areas of South East Queensland where public transport is limited. In such circumstances there is an even greater need to travel to find work when one also factors in a person’s limited command of English. This was a small win for Salvos Legal but a big win for Bob!