RLC in the Media: Man eating kebab on bench among 50 people fined in NSW and Victoria for violating coronavirus laws

Justice advocates are concerned that police crackdowns to tackle the public health emergency will disproportionately affect vulnerable people.

Michael McGowan and Ben Smee report for the Guardian Australia

Complex new powers see the introduction of on-the-spot-fines and other punitive measures for breaching coronavirus social isolation measures and other public health laws in NSW.

Under the new laws, you may only leave your place of residence if you have a ‘reasonable excuse’ to do so. Gatherings of more than two people in a public place are not allowed. However, the two-person limit does not apply to people within your household.

NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller said the rules were necessary to “save lives”. “The important thing is that people comply with the two-person rule when doing exercise, or that they only exercise with their household,” he said. 

RLC police powers solicitor Sam Lee said that community safety is vitally important, but raised concerns that fines may disproportionately affect people already experiencing vulnerability, including young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those who have just lost their job.

"This is one of the largest on-the-spot fines available to police, and one of the most complex pieces of public health legislation,” Lee said.

Police should be “provided with clear and rigorous guidance as to the application of these laws, and directed to issue a warning and a fine should be an absolute last resort."

She also said the fact the fines were not means-tested and could be applied to children as young as 10 meant they would have greater impact on those with lesser means to pay them.

“The impact of fines often propels already marginalised people straight into the criminal justice system, simply because they are unable to pay,” Lee said.

Read the full article here.