Russian diplomats in Canberra have racked up $23,099 worth of unpaid parking fines—almost $20,000 more than any other diplomatic embassy in the ACT. That makes for a total of 175 individual fines as of this month, according to Freedom of Information documents released by the ACT Government and obtained by the ABC. Collectively, foreign embassies have amassed 423 unpaid parking fines, worth a total of almost $60,000 and in some cases dating back as far as 2013.
While Canberra’s parking inspectors are very much allowed to issue the fines, the ACT courts can’t actually enforce them, since the Vienna convention stipulates that emissaries posted to foreign countries are immune from prosecution by local authorities. Moreover, according to protocols listed on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's (DFAT) website, police can stop an envoy's vehicle and ask the driver to take a breath test, but have no power to arrest or detain foreign staff.
Nonetheless, the Government continues to record all traffic infringements and send courtesy letters to the relevant embassies, kindly asking foreign officials to comply with national laws and follow police directions. Most of those embassies oblige, telling their staff to obey traffic rules and to pay whatever penalties they might accrue by breaching them.
A spokesperson said the Government "takes all parking offences seriously and works with relevant embassies and consulates… to rectify outstanding infringements". But the Russian embassy—which has 15 officials posted in Canberra—has thus far elected to sit on its $23,000 debt.
The countries with the next biggest bills are Slovakia (who have $4,123 in unpaid fines); Afghanistan ($3,423); Romania ($3,018); Ghana ($2,332); and Nepal ($2,228). The traffic infringements span a range of breaches, from parking without paying to using spots reserved for people living with disabilities.
A DFAT spokesperson told the ABC today that the Department "expects diplomats to obey Australia's laws and to pay fines promptly.” They added that "DFAT regularly reminds diplomats they have an obligation to obey Australia's road rules.”
VICE approached the Russian embassy for comment and they came back to us with the following statement:
Let me assure you that this Embassy is very serious about respecting laws and regulations of the receiving state as stipulated in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. You could easily find out that since 2018 it has been the strict practice for us to cover without delay all newly imposed parking fines. In respect to the rather important amount accrued in preceding years, this matter is under discussion in due course between this Embassy and the DFAT. We hope that acceptable solutions could be found.