Surprise! The Australian Police Aren’t Enforcing Social Distancing Laws Equally

Victorian police conducted 983 spot checks and issued 108 fines in 24 hours - more than NSW was done since mid-March.

Victorian Police

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Australian police efforts to flatten the COVID-19 curve through fines have caused concern, as the public struggle to learn what movement is and isn’t allowed in individual states. Current numbers suggest that enforcement of fines has been unclear and harsh, with Victorian police conducting a huge 983 spot checks and issuing 108 fines in a 24 hour period over the weekend.

Across Australia, gatherings of more than two people are banned, apart from immediate family and those you live with, as are all “non-essential activities” — a term which is up to each state and territory to determine.

In Victoria, a 17-year-old girl was fined $1652 over the weekend for learning how to drive with her mum, having been determined a “non-essential activity”. Uproar over the fine and the lack of warning offered has caused an internal review, as both the teen and wider public expressed confusion over why this would be deemed illegal, especially as it’s a low-risk activity, provided the two stay within the car.

“We had no intentions of having contact with anyone, stopping anywhere, or breaking any of those rules. I did not think for one minute it would be incorrect to do that,” the child’s mother told the ABC.

“I understand the Government and everyone associated is doing the best they can with the knowledge they have, and I’m certainly not here to criticise anybody, but I think common sense is lacking in Victoria.”

On Monday, NSW Police made a statement via Facebook to say driver’s lessons for L platers wouldn’t be considered an infringement of social distancing laws.

“We consider that it would be a reasonable excuse for a person to leave their house to receive driving lessons… given that this is a learning activity that cannot be done from home and is akin to the listed reasonable excuse of travelling to attend an educational institution where you cannot learn from home,” it read.

What is legal in one state is illegal in another, prompting mass confusion over what is and isn’t allowed.

There’s also a discrepancy of how many fines each police branch is issuing. While NSW is our most populated state and boasts the most COVID-19 contractions, it has issued 98 fines since 17 March, while Victoria has issued 307.

The ABC has a breakdown of each state and territory’s infringements, and also notes the mass penal discrepancies. In NSW, for example, people could be jailed for six months and/or fined $11,000, while Victorians face $1652 on the spot fines or a $9913 fine for not complying with social distancing.

Meanwhile, SA is dishing $1000 fines for individuals found in groups of more than 10 people. It’s a direct contradiction with what PM Scott Morrison announced last week around groups of more than two being banned, which is instead being treated as strongly advised but not enforced.

As The Saturday Paper‘s 7am podcast editor Osman Faruqi notes, NSW’s fines also don’t match up with the areas where COVID-19 has been most contagious, such as Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

He points out that despite four affluent suburbs/regions (Waverley, Northern Beaches, Inner West, Randwick) making up 23 percent of NSW’s current locally acquired COVID-19, they have one infringement between them as of April 5.

Meanwhile, 33 percent of police issued infringements have been in Western Sydney, and regional town Coonamble, where roughly one third of people are Indigenous, has 10 percent of the state’s infringements, despite making up less than half a percent of NSW’s population.

Either Randwick is really good at social distancing, or certain (read: non-white) communities are being penalised more than others.

Feature image via Victorian Government.