RLC in the Media: The suburbs and towns that copped the most pandemic fines

Young men from poor suburbs and towns with high Aboriginal or immigrant populations were more likely to be fined for breaking the lockdown rules designed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons and Nigel Gladstone report for the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Sun-Herald has used NSW freedom of information laws to obtain the details of all 1427 fines and charges issued for breaking the public health order that ran from March 17 to June 28. Under this directive, NSW residents were required to stay home unless they had a valid excuse to be out, such as buying groceries, exercise, medical appointments and essential work, and to stay 1.5 metres away from other people.

Half the fines and charges went to people living in the most disadvantaged suburbs, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The postcodes in the bottom 10 per cent of socioeconomic status - including suburbs such as Mount Druitt and towns such as Kempsey on the Mid North Coast - accounted for nearly 20 per cent of the fines.

The figures show towns and suburbs with high Indigenous populations received more fines and charges. Mount Druitt has an Indigenous population of 6.8 per cent, compared with the state average of 2.9 per cent. Kempsey has an Indigenous population of 13.5 per cent.

Samantha Lee, a solicitor in the police accountability practice at Redfern Legal Centre, said it appeared police were given too much discretion over when to issue a fine, noting "such discretion often has a detrimental impact on those who are most vulnerable".

She said police might be using the COVID-19 fines as a pretext to stop and search people and also as a "tag on offence" - a fine tagged onto another fine or charge - even though a public health order might not have been breached.

Read the full story here (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 September 2020)