Paul Gregoire

About Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on civil rights, drug law reform, gender and Indigenous issues. Along with Sydney Criminal Lawyers, he writes for VICE and is the former news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

In NSW, you can’t go outside without a “reasonable” excuse

In order to contain COVID-19 in NSW, residents have been supplied a constantly shifting list of what they can and can’t do. 

 

 

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Monday morning that the new coronavirus rule regarding outdoor gatherings would be enforced as of midnight. And since then, citizens no longer have the right to assemble with more than one person outside, besides their immediate family.

The NSW Police Force has been empowered to ensure compliance with the two-person rule, under threat of a newly imposed $1,000 infringement notice. And this is just the last amongst a string of other recently enforced regulations designed to save our lives, as well as criminalise them.

But, get this, Berejiklian hasn’t just entrusted the monitoring of social distancing and self-isolation measures to law enforcement, the premier has also handed over the full reins of the COVID-19 pandemic response to NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller.

 

“A sensible escalation”

“We know there are some new laws that will come in line tonight in relation to two people being out together – that’s sensible,” the NSW police commissioner told reporters on Monday morning. “We don’t want to have to enforce these laws.” But, of course, they’re going to.

Notice how Mr Fuller refers to the two-person rule as a “law”. This new measure was first cited by PM Scott Morrison on Sunday evening at a press conference, and by Monday morning it was a new enforceable law according to NSW authorities.

Obviously, this is how laws get passed in the time of COVID, after Berejiklian closed down state parliament last week –  one day following the PM’s closure of federal parliament. And now the premier has launched a police state response headed by Fuller.

 

Obviously, this is how laws get passed in the time of COVID, after Berejiklian closed down state parliament last week –  one day following the PM’s closure of federal parliament. And now the premier has launched a police state response headed by Fuller.

 

Health Minister Brad Hazzard has recently passed a number of public health orders with new “laws” involving social distancing and quarantining. Issued under the Public Health Act 2010 (NSW), if these orders are breached a person is liable to up to 6 months prison time and/or a fine of $11,000.

According to the official lettering, “The object of this Order is to give certain Ministerial directions to deal with the public health risk of COVID-19 and its possible consequences. In particular, this Order directs that a person must not, without reasonable excuse, leave the person’s place of residence. Examples of a reasonable excuse include leaving for reasons involving: obtaining food or other goods and services, or travelling for the purposes of work or education if the person cannot do it at home, or exercise, or medical or caring reasons.”

In real terms, there’s no more driving out of boredom (or mental health reasons), going to the park to read is out, as is a picnic with your immediate family. You can still exercise with one other (within your household) and you can bring groceries or visit someone who requires care. Fuller this morning confirmed that you can also check on a friend if you are concerned about their mental health.

 

The full list of ‘reasonable excuses’ (NSW Government)

 

In response to a reporter’s question, Fuller explained that he’d asked the premier for the news fines, but if people repeatedly flout the COVID laws, well, they’ll just have to go before the courts to face potential time inside.

And to top this all off, the NSW court system is slowly grinding to a halt.

 

A law unto themselves

COVID-19 is serious. Evidently, infections will explode, and many will start dying. But, given the nature of this crisis, one might question why the premier hasn’t launched a response headed by health, rather than this heavy-handed law enforcement approach that criminalises our daily lives.

The NSW Police Force announced last week that it would have thousands of extra police on the streets enforcing COVID laws, in an attempt, as NSW police minister David Elliot put it, “to kill this virus before it kills us”.

However, it seems highly unlikely that the coronavirus is going to stop taking people’s lives if NSW police applies excessive force to the matter, while citizens who’ve contracted the disease – or potentially have – should perhaps be treated more like patients, than criminal offenders.

And as for citizens who don’t agree with the war on COVID tactics, it’s not like their local members can raise these concerns, because parliament’s closed.

 

 

 

 

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