Australian Education Minister Alan Tudge has claimed that children in Victoria “as young as 10” have been fined for failing to wear a face mask.
But official data for the state shows Victoria Police have not issued a face mask fine to any children aged below 13 years.
On November 5, Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper published an article saying that 260 face mask fines have been issued to children in Victoria in the 12 months to June this year, “including 29 given to those between the ages of 10 and 14”.
On the same day, Mr Tudge tweeted a link to the article, adding the comment: “Kids as young as 10 fined for not wearing masks. Only in Victoria.”
However, under current rules, children younger than 12 are exempt from wearing face masks in Victoria, meaning that police cannot legitimately issue face mask fines to 10- or 11-year-olds.
Victoria’s Crime Statistics Agency (CSA), which processes, analyses and publishes Victorian crime statistics, independent of Victoria Police, told AAP FactCheck in an email the majority of the 29 fines in question were issued to 14-year-olds while a small number were handed to 13-year-olds.
The CSA has not recorded any examples of face mask fines being issued to children younger than 13.
The agency would not confirm the exact number of fines issued to 13-year-olds, citing its data confidentiality policies, but said the figure was at least one but not greater than three. Therefore, of the 29 fines mentioned in the Herald Sun report that were issued to children aged 10-14, 26 to 28 fines were issued to 14-year-olds while the remainder (one to three) were issued to 13-year-olds.
A Victoria Police spokeswoman told AAP FactCheck that police policy was for infringement notices not to be issued to any person under 14.
“Wherever possible, police will issue a warning or caution to a child (of any age) rather than a fine,” she said via email.
In a follow-up email, a Victoria Police spokesman said he could not say why fines were issued to one or more 13-year-olds in apparent contradiction to police policy. However, all fines may be challenged and reviewed, he added.
Mr Tudge was not the only one to misinterpret the Herald Sun article. Daily Mail Australia and News.com.au both published stories wrongly stating that children “as young as 10” in Victoria had been issued with mask fines. The Herald Sun also got the facts wrong when tweeting its own story on social media.
The claim that children as young as 10 have been fined for failing to wear a face mask in Victoria is a misinterpretation of a news report. According to official data, no person under the age of 13 has been fined for not wearing a face mask in the state.
False – Content that has no basis in fact.
Updated November 11 10:30 AEDT: Clarifies wording about the number of fines issued to 13- and 14-year-olds.