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Critics: Penalty for panhandlers ‘beggars belief’

/ Source: The Associated Press

A town council in Australia's Outback has proposed discouraging beggars by slapping them with a 130 Australian dollar ($108) fine, but critics argued Friday that such penalties could increase the need for panhandling.

Jonathan Pilbrow, of the welfare group Northern Territory Council of Social Services, said beggars already struggle to pay their bills with their welfare checks, which they receive every two weeks.

"Even if they can find the money to meet the fine, it means they're going to be less well off the next fortnight (two weeks) and probably more likely to beg again," Pilbrow said.

The Alice Springs town council agreed at a meeting on Thursday night to seek public feedback on its plan to give rangers power to issue fines for begging.

"That's up to them to figure out how to pay it," council official Craig Catchlove said of the beggars.

Many of the beggars in Alice Springs have drifted in from surrounding tiny Aboriginal townships where alcohol is banned to drink and where they live as itinerants.

Paul Henderson, chief minister of Northern Territory where Alice Springs is the second-largest city, dismissed the plan as "wacky."

"Certainly it beggars belief to think that somebody that's out there so impoverished and destitute that they're begging for money can afford to pay the fine," Henderson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Begging is currently not an offense in Alice Springs.

More on: Australia