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In a little over five weeks, the NSW police issued $1 million in fines regarding the coronavirus. Puzzlingly, we still don’t know the guidelines officers must follow.
According to figures secured by the Redfern Legal Centre, the NSW police processed a $1 million in coronavirus fines between March 26 and May 2. 5% of the fines processed (totalling around $50,000) were given to people under 18.
Samantha Lee, Redfern Legal Centre’s head of police accountability practice told The Sydney Morning Herald that: “These fines are a significant monetary penalty and have been issued during a time when many people are facing dire financial circumstances.”
Ms Lee is also calling for a review of the fines given to children. The NSW police have stated that their commissioner, Mick Fuller, has reviewed all the fines processed, and has withdrawn 60.
“The cost of these fines are at least three times the base weekly amount a person on JobSeeker payment (equivalent to the maximum payment for a single person previously on Newstart) receives and double the amount of many speeding fines,” Lee said.
According to the legal centre, the statistics do not show fines issued after May 2.
Back in March, 70,000 officers were deployed on the streets enforcing the new coronavirus social distancing rules in an effort, as NSW police minister David Elliot put it, “to kill this virus before it kills us”.
Distancing and isolation required
NSW health minister Brad Hazzard issued his first public health order on 16 March. It related to people who arrive back in the country from overseas having to “isolate themselves for a quarantine period of 14 days”.
Imposed on 20 March, the second-order prohibited outdoor gatherings of over 500 people and an indoor gathering of over 100. And it also stipulates that for gatherings under these parameters there must be at least a four squared metre allowance for each person attending.
And the third order, dated 23 March, outlined that non-essential venues must be closed to the public “except in limited circumstances”. These types of businesses include bars, entertainment venues, and indoor sporting facilities.
Two orders were issued on 25 March. The first applies to those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. On learning of their diagnosis, a person must immediately travel to the place they will stay during quarantine and remain there until cleared.
The second 25 March order relates to the stage two COVID restrictions imposed by the PM the day prior. It relates to many smaller venues ceasing operations, prohibitions on sporting activities, restrictions on weddings, funerals, hairdressers and childcare. And it also provides that government agencies can share information so as to protect the public during the pandemic.
The first COVID-19 infringement notices
By 10 pm of the day the new infringement notices came into place, NSW police officers had already issued five COVID-related fines.
The first was related to a Sydney Sussex Street massage parlour that was still open. The owner was slapped with a $5,000 fine and her three staff members, who were continuing to serve the public, were issued with $1,000 fines.
Gallingly, the police are yet to explain how and why they enforce the fines, and are set to be presented to Parliament later this week.
“It is concerning that police may have been given wide discretion around the issuing of such high fines,” Ms Lee told The Sydney Morning Herald. “A major concern with the issuing of these fines is that police may have circumvented essential legal thresholds such as reasonable suspicion and onus of proof.”