Even now, barely a year after the end of the lockdown, it’s hard to imagine a world in which NSW Police could be given carte blanche to fine people thousands of dollars based on vague, rushed orders that neither the officer nor the offender fully understood.
Some of the fines seem absurd when you look back.
At a Potts Point market, a suited police officer asked two men “what do you think you are doing?” before fining them $1000 each because they had the temerity to stand and eat noodles they’d just bought (even though their own careful reading of the orders suggested noodle-eating was OK).
There were also the nude sunbathers. They were fined after they were startled by deer and got lost in Royal National Park. The police said that sunbaking was illegal. Herald at the time – even somewhere so far from other people that clothes were unnecessary – was not a “reasonable excuse” for leaving home.
Potts Point received the majority of fines. Many more were issued in the city’s most vulnerable areas, where the COVID-19 restrictions were stricter and policing was much more intensive, and where residents were much less likely to have the language or education to challenge them.
The Delta lockdown saw policing intensified as a strategy for managing pandemics. Helicopters hovered above communities to ensure that residents were following their curfews and observing their hours outside. Many residents of the so-called areas of local government concern felt harassed, betrayed, and betrayed.
“I’m not surprised by [the court’s finding] at all,” said Steve Christou, who was mayor of hotspot Cumberland when the fines were introduced. “During the extreme lockdown conditions that my community endured what we were seeing, and some of the rules and regulations put in place, didn’t make any sense.”
The independent COVID-19 review, chaired by outgoing Western Sydney University chancellor Peter Shergold, acknowledged the “counterproductive” heavy police presence in Aboriginal areas and urban suburbs with significant numbers of asylum seekers and new migrants.
“When police and troops came on the streets to enforce lockdown, it sometimes looked to them more like martial law than humanitarian relief,” the report said.
“The goodwill and trust that community members felt for civil society organisations was an asset that governments initially failed to appreciate or utilise.”
As vague and confusing as the fines were, they may have helped to curb COVID. However, they came at a high price.
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