'We cannot fine our way out of the pandemic': a call to address unjust COVID-19 fines

Over 100 prominent members of the legal, academic and political profession have endorsed an open letter addressed to the NSW Premier, calling on the NSW Government to revoke wrongly issued COVID-19 fines.

Add your name to the Open Letter: bit.ly/covid-fines-letter 

Written by Aboriginal Legal Service ACT/NSW (ALS), Redfern Legal Centre, Community Legal Centres NSW and Public Interest Advocacy Service, the open letter calls for greater investment in community education and engagement strategies, and enhanced social and economic measures to support communities already in crisis.

The letter is a response to concerns among the legal fraternity that COVID-19 fines have been incorrectly issued by police to people undertaking lawful recreation, and that these significant monetary penalties are having a disproportionate impact on communities experiencing vulnerability. 

Read the open letter below (signatures updated 23 September 2021)

The Hon. Gladys Berejiklian MP, Premier of NSW
Via online form: https://www.nsw.gov.au/premier-of-nsw/contact-premier

cc The Hon. Victor Michael Dominello MP, Minister for Customer Service
cc The Hon. David Elliot MP, Minister for Police

15 September 2021

Dear Premier

A call to address unjust COVID-19 fines

The organisations and individuals that have signed this open letter are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 fines on vulnerable people and communities in NSW.

We call on the Government to reduce the use of policing and fines to ensure compliance with public health orders and invest more heavily in non-punitive approaches.

Many communities in NSW are facing dire financial consequences as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. While fines are a common mechanism for enforcing the law, we are very concerned by the emphasis that has been placed on them as a means for securing compliance with public health orders. These new public health orders have been introduced and amended at a rapid pace. Their legal elements are complex and difficult to understand. This has inevitably resulted in confusion among some members of the public about their rights and responsibilities, with a disproportionate impact on vulnerable community groups.

People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who lack access to accurately translated and culturally appropriate health advice also risk being further disadvantaged.

The excessive use of fines against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities in NSW also has the potential to further entrench disadvantage and exacerbate negative relationships between Aboriginal communities and the police.

We urge the Government to reduce reliance on policing and fines as a predominant strategy for achieving compliance with COVID-19 public health orders.

We instead encourage greater investment in community education and engagement strategies, and enhanced social and economic measures to support communities already in crisis. This will engender greater trust in contract tracers and authorities enforcing public health advice.

We call on the Government to reduce the monetary amounts of COVID-19 fines.

The cost of COVID-19 fines are significant, especially compared to other fines. People experiencing disadvantage already suffering from the economic impact of COVID-19 risk being plunged further into debt. The appeals and financial hardship review processes relating to fines are insufficient to address these concerns – they require an understanding of complex and changing legal rules, knowledge of the right to seek review, prompt action within tight timeframes and language and advocacy skills, which many people just don’t have.

We call on the Government to review and revoke all fines erroneously imposed for lawful outdoor recreation.

We are concerned that many people have been incorrectly issued a $1,000 or $3,000 fine by NSW Police for undertaking lawful outdoor recreation activities including sitting in a park by themselves, or with one other person or household members, eating in an outdoor public space by themselves, or with one other person or household members, and sitting alone in a car.

The Public Health (COVID-19 Additional Restrictions for Delta Outbreak) Order allows for a person (excluding areas of concern) to leave their place of residence to undertake ‘exercise or outdoor recreation’ with one other person or members of the same household within a 5km radius or within their local government area. Up until the 12 August 2021, it also allowed those in areas of concern to undertake recreation within 5km of their place of residence. The NSW Government website states: ‘Recreation includes outdoor leisure activities such as sitting for relaxation, or to eat, drink or read outdoors.’

We cannot fine our way out of the pandemic.

We need alternatives to the widespread use of fines to ensure compliance with the public health orders. This includes better social and economic support for struggling communities, more investment in community engagement and education and the distribution of culturally appropriate materials and messages. Such an approach will be more effective in building support for important public health measures that seek to protect our community.

Yours sincerely

​1. Nadine Miles, A/Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd
2. Joanna Shulman, Chief Executive Officer, Redfern Legal Centre
3. Tim Leach, Executive Director, Community Legal Centres NSW
4. Jonathon Hunyor, Chief Executive Officer, Public Interest Advocacy Centre
5. Stephen Norrish QC
6. Usman Naveed, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT)       
7. Mark Patrick, Principal Solicitor, Australian Centre for Disability Law
8. Felicity Graham, Barrister, Black Chambers      

9. Brinda Thanakrishnan, Team Manager, CBA 

10. Arlia Fleming, Centre Director, Central Tablelands and Blue Mountains Community Legal Centre

11. Luke McNamara, Professor and Co-Director, Centre for Crime, Law and Justice, UNSW Sydney         

12. Dr Annie Cossins, Honorary Professor, Centre for Crime, Law and Justice, UNSW Sydney

13.George (Kev) Dertadian, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Centre for Crime, Law and Justice, UNSW Sydney 

14. Jason Moore, PhD Candidate, Centre for Crime, Law and Justice, UNSW Sydney 

15. Mehera San Roque, Associate Professor, Centre for Crime, Law and Justice, UNSW Sydney

16. Vicki Sentas, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Crime, Law and Justice, UNSW Sydney

17. Tamar Hopkins, PhD Student, Centre for Crime Law and Justice, UNSW Sydney

18. Kate Bonser, Graduate Lawyer, Chalk & Behrendt Lawyers and Consultants        

19. Ingrid Rikkert, Regional Accreditation Coordinator, CLCNSW      

20. Jill Hunter, Professor, Faculty of Law & Justice, UNSW Sydney       

21. Julie Stubbs, Honorary Professor, Faculty of Law and Justice, UNSW Sydney

22. Jane Wangmann, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

23. Dr Elyse Methven, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

24. Thalia Anthony, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney        

25. Stacy Treloar, Chief Executive Officer, Far West Community Legal Centre & Warra Warra Legal Service       

26. Julia Davis, Senior Policy & Communications Officer, Financial Rights Legal Cent

27.Mark Holden, Solicitor, Financial Rights Legal Centre 

28. Larissa Baldwin, First Nations Justice Campaign Director, GetUp!   

29. Belinda Lowe, Head of Strategic Communication, Grata Fund          

30. Isabelle Reinecke, Founder and Executive Director, Grata Fund      

31. Katherine McKernan, CEO, Homelessness NSW         

32. Ruth Barson and Adrianne Walters, Legal Directors, Human Rights Law Centre   

33. Debi Fisher, Acting Principal Lawyer, Hume Riverina Community Legal Service   

34. Bronwyn Ambrogetti, Managing Solicitor, Hunter Community Legal Centre

35. Peter Stapleton, individual

36. Roslyn Cook, Centre Director, Inner City Legal Centre

37. Janene Cootes, Executive Officer, Intellectual Disability Rights Service      

38. Chris Cunneen, Professor of Criminology, Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, UTS

39. Alison Whittaker, Senior Researcher, Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, UTS        

40. Chris Povey, CEO, Justice Connect        

41. Angela Cheng, Solicitor, Legal Aid NSW

42. Robert Pelletier, Executive Officer, Macarthur Legal Centre  

43. Lotus Rana, Mentoring and Transition Officer, Macquarie University

44. Vasili Maroulis, Managing Principal Solicitor, Marrickville Legal Centre

45. Justin Abi-Daher, Assistant Principal Solicitor, Marrickville Legal Centre

46. Bettina Cooper, Aboriginal Financial Counsellor, Mob Strong Debt Help - Financial Rights Legal Centre

47. George Newhouse, CEO and Principal Solicitor, National Justice Project

48. Nicole Jenkins, Centre Manager, Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre

49. Peter O'Brien, Solicitor, O'Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors

50. Elle Triantafillou, Solicitor, O'Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors

51. Oliver Creagh, Paralegal, O'Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors

52. Grace Gooley, Solicitor, Public Interest Advocacy Centre       

53. Kamani, Lawyer (volunteer), Redfern Legal Centre

54. Joe Murphy, Client Intake Supervisor, Redfern Legal Centre 

55. Luke Carr, Solicitor, Redfern Legal Centre

56. Sabina Wynn, General Manager, Seniors Rights Service

57. John Engeler, CEO, Shelter NSW

58. Justine O'Reilly, Principal Solicitor, Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre

59. Kathryn Grimshaw, Generalist and Law Reform Solicitor, Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre

60. Dr Ebony Birchall, Senior Associate, Slater and Gordon

61. Yvette Vignando, CEO, South West Sydney Legal Centre     

62. Belinda Smith, Associate Professor, Sydney Law School

63. Ben Boer, Emeritus Professor, Sydney Law School     

64. Jason Chin, Lecturer, Sydney Law School         

65. Nicole Graham, Associate Dean (Education), Sydney Law School   

66. Irene Wardle, Educator, Sydney University       

67. Lynette Riley, Associate Professor, Sydney University

68. Mahmoud Al Rifai, Ethnocultural Officer, Sydney University Law Society    

69. Wendy Hu, President, Sydney University Law Society Inc      

70. Abigail Boyd MLC (Legislative Council), The Greens   

71. Jenny Leong MP Member for Newtown, NSW Parliament, The Greens                  

72. Cate Faehrmann MLC (Legislative Council), The Greens       

73. David Shoebridge MLC (Legislative Council), The Greens     

74. Jamie Parker MP (Legislative Assembly), The Greens

75. Jenny Leong MP (Legislative Assembly), The Greens

76. Tamara Smith MP (Legislative Assembly), The Greens          

77. Jane Sanders, Principal Solicitor, The Shopfront Youth Legal Centre          

78. Catherine Smyth, Lecturer, The University of Sydney 

79. Joe Alvaro, The University of Sydney     

80. Amanda Niland, Lecturer in early childhood education, University of Sydney         

81. Dr Judith A Cashmore, Professor of Socio-legal Research and Policy, University of Sydney

82. Tanya Mitchell, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney 

83. Carolyn McKay, Senior research fellow, University of Sydney Law School 

84. Louise Boon-Kuo, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney Law School          

85. Simon Rice, OAM, Kim Santow Chair of Law and Social Justice, University of Sydney Law School

86. Alex Steel, Professor of Law, UNSW      

87. Eileen Baldry DVC EDI & Professor of Criminology, UNSW

88. Karen Daniels, PhD Candidate, UNSW CCLJ;

89. Simone Rowe, Research Associate; PhD Candidate, UNSW; CCLJ

90. Julia Quilter, A/Prof, UOW

91. Katherine Biber, Professor of Law, UTS 

92. Penny Crofts, Professor, UTS

93. Sophie Russell, PhD student, UTS Law

94. Patrick O'Callaghan, Principal Solicitor, Western NSW Community Legal Centre  

95. Dr Jenni Whelan, Director, Western Sydney University Justice Clinic          

96. Roger West, Director and Principal Consultant, WestWood Spice    

97. Christine Robinson, Coordinator, Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre

98. Amy Wright                          

99. Betty Luu                              

100. Clare Petre                           

101. Dr G Thanakrishnan, retiree

102. Ellen Dimanoski                              

103. Lauren Miles                        

104. Sinem Kirk

105. Timothy Rayner

106. Troy Moffat

107. Maria Monastiriotis, Solicitor, Redfern legal Centre 

108. Destiny Valencia, Legal Support Officer, Redfern Legal Centre 

109. Rebecca Dominguez, Principal Solicitor, Western Sydney University Justice Clinic 

110. Deborah Macmillan, Executive Officer, Central Coast Community Legal Centre 

111. David Hofierka, Solicitor, Redfern Legal Centre 

112. Sarah Crellin, A/Principal Legal Officer, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) 

113. Keisha Hopgood, A/ Principle Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd 

114. Georgie Melrose, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service 

115. Kirby Hill, Managing Solicitor South Coast, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd 

116. Imogen Hogan, Trial Advocate, Aboriginal Legal Service 

117. Nicola Breward, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd

118. Matilda Bogart Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd 

119. Jack Clifford, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT 

120. Laura Melhuish, Solicitor - Bourke, Aboriginal Legal Service 

121. Gemma Campagna, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service 

122. Heather Webb, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT Ltd 

123. Jonathan Cooper, Trial Advocate, Aboriginal Legal Service 

124. Rachel Thampapillai, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service   

125. Nidal Abdi, Senior Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service 

126. Ewa Zieba, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service  

127. Jeremy Styles, Managing Advocate, Aboriginal Legal Service 

128. Priya Singh, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service (ACT/NSW) Ltd

129. Hugo Atkinson Solicitor Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT Ltd 

130. Michelle Hayward 

131. Jessica Best, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service  

132. Osca Monaghan, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service 

133. Lorissa Day, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service 

134. Tim McKenzie, Lawyer, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd 

135. Zoe De Re, Acting Principal Solicitor (Care & Protection/Family Law Practice), Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd 

136. Lauren Skinner, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT Ltd

137. Megan Bennett, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT)Ltd 

138. Lucinda Knapp, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service  

139. Edward Jegasothy, Epidemiologist, The University of Sydney 

140. Zachariah Sayed, Solicitor, Paton Hooke Lawyers 

141. Crystal Triggs, Cluster Manager, Aboriginal Legal Service 

142. Scarlett Gibbs, Paralegal , Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) 

143. Sally Fitzpatrick, Research Fellow, Newcastle University 

144. Jasmine Opdam, Solicitor, Redfern Legal Centre 

145. Laura Bianchi, Team Leader, Redfern Legal Centre 

146. Jacqui Swinburne, Chief Operations Officer, Redfern Legal Centre

147. Ned Cooke, ISTAAS Team Leader, Solicitor, Redfern Legal Centre

148. Alison Mackey, Solicitor, Redfern Legal Centre

149. Sarah Wright 

150. Nadine Longbottom, Aged Care Worker 

151. Regina Featherstone, Solicitor, Redfern Legal Centre

152. Joshua Gibson, PhD Candidate, UNSW Faculty of Law & Justice

153. Rebecca Scott Bray, Associate Professor of Criminology and Socio-Legal Studies, The University of Sydney

154. Teena Riley 

155. Clare Sibraa, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service

156. Ben Harris-Roxas, Senior Lecturer School of Population Health, UNSW Sydney

157. Anna-Louise Hooper 

158. Tom Seeney, Partner, James and Jaramillo Lawyers

159. Scott Affleck, Solicitor, Legal Aid NSW

160. Lida Szabunia, Solicitor, Lida's Legal

161. Charlotte, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service

162. Lauren Stefanou, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service(NSW/ACT)

163. Kilty O’Brien 

164. Sandra Buck 

165. Thomas Eckersley, Solicitor, Nelson Keane & Hemingway Solicitors 

166. Rachel Frezza Solicitor, Nightingale Lawyers

167. Tom Battersby, Barrister, Victorian Bar 

168. Molly O'Brien 

169. Nathaniel Mazari 

170. Shannon Huber, Team Leader, Neami National

171. Lee Rhiannon, Former Greens Senator 

172. Jane Leete, General Practitioner in an AMS 

173. Mark Sinclair Doyle, Barrister  

174. Onor Nottle, Socials Director, Sydney University Law Society Inc

175. Menaz 

176. Kate Finlayson 

177. Sally Knox, Volunteer Legal Assistant, Redfern Legal Centre

178. Mark Vick 

177. Ferdous Bahar, Lawyer, Ashurst Australia

178. Kerry Weste, President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights

179. Alessia R 

180. Peter Reay, Public Advocate, Concerned citizen

181. Mina Mina, Director, 2M Consulting PTY LTD

182. Stephen Beale, Owner/Sole Trader, Wiradjuri Nation

183. Nathan Allen, First Nations Officer, Sydney University Law Students Society

184. Eleanor Holden, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT

185. Molly Bland

186. Tess, Solicitor, ALS

187. Michael Stone, Solicitor, Aboriginal Legal Service

188. Susan Winfield, Solicitor, Marrickville Legal Centre

189. Tara Ward, Managing Solicitor, Animal Defenders Office
190. Andrew Freeman  

191. Anabelle von Frankenberg 

192. Harriet O'Hare, Solicitor 

193. Jennifer Adams

194. Christopher Dixon 

195. Hana Abbott 

196. Lesley Devisser  

197. Nirav Raghwani  

198. Disha Jagad 
 

(Signatures updated online: 11 October 2021)