The massive NSW Police enforcement effort that kicked off on August 16 has resulted in nearly 22,000 fines for breaches of the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons reports for Sydney Morning Herald.
Operation Stay at Home marked a dramatic ramp-up in the police response, with NSW Police issuing more than double the number of fines in three and a half weeks as the entire 17 months of the pandemic before that.
Since then, COVID-19 daily case numbers have continued to rise, but the transmission rate is stable or slowing, which epidemiologists say is mainly because of vaccination. Community law advocates say many fines were wrongly issued and should be revoked.
Professor Catherine Bennett at Deakin University said lockdown restrictions rely heavily on voluntary compliance and that could be undermined by “rules on top of rules”, such as a curfew that made it illegal to leave the house to attend an already-illegal nocturnal gathering.
“Some people are going to get the message and some people aren’t, some people are living in fear already and it just stops them going out at all and that’s unhealthy and unnecessary to be that fearful, particularly between outbreaks,” she said. “For other people … it makes them feel oppressed and less likely to comply with any part of lockdown.”
Redfern Legal Centre, which runs a free COVID-19 fines advice centre, said police were fining people who were clearly not breaking the law.
The public health order allows people outside the 12 areas of concern to undertake “recreation” alone or with one other person or with members of the same household.
Samantha Lee, police accountability solicitor Redfern Legal Centre, said she knew of several cases where the police were fining people for sitting in a park, away from others, and not in an area of concern.
“We are calling on the NSW Government to revoke all COVID-19 fines that have been issued incorrectly by NSW Police to those undertaking lawful recreation,” Ms Lee said.