By Poppy Morandin and Jimmy Singh.
NSW Police are currently enforcing the border closure between NSW and Victoria.
On Wednesday 8th July, The Public Health (COVID-19 NSW and Victorian Border) Order 2020, under section 7 of the Public Health Act 2010 (NSW) commenced.
The Order states that people who have been in Victoria in the last 14 days must not travel to NSW, unless authorised.
To be authorised to enter NSW, individuals must seek to obtain an entry permit and comply with the conditions specified by the permit including to self-isolate for 14 days. It is an offence to provide false information when applying for a permit.
Those exempt from having to apply for an entry permit include persons providing an emergency or law enforcement service, entering to avoid injury or harm, entering for medical or hospital services, entering to attend court or meet over legal obligations.
A person must, if requested by an officer, provide information including photo identification, medical certificates, and a permit.
An officer may request this information only if they believe on reasonable grounds that the person may have been in Victoria in the last 14 days.
NSW Police may require affected persons to leave NSW, by turning them back, if they are a Victorian resident and are not authorised to enter NSW.
The penalties for seeking to cross the border, without the relevant authorisation, remains consistent with the penalties for other COVID-19 infringements: a maximum $11,000 fine and/or six months in jail, plus a further $5,500 fine each day the offence continues if the offence is dealt with by a NSW Court.
It will be dealt with by a court if the infringement notice/penalty notice is court elected by the recipient of the notice.
The standard penalty remains an on-the-spot $1,000 fine, by way of Penalty Infringement Notice. Payment of this amount will end up putting the matter to rest. The higher maximum penalties noted earlier are then engaged at the discretion of a Magistrate or Judge in court if the notice is court elected, which is at the discretion of the recipient of the infringement notice.
A 34-year-old Barnawartha man has already been charged with attempting to cross the border near Corowa, at 11am on Wednesday. He possessed no valid exemption or permit and did not comply with a multitude of police directions.
After making a bail application in court, he was refused bail and is due to appear in Albury Local Court, whilst his wife and three children complied with the police direction and returned to Victoria.
The Order will expire in 90 days unless it is revoked earlier, or “until community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria is contained.”
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has stated that police would be monitoring roads, as well as points accessible through swimming or by walking. Around 650 officers and 350 defence personnel are aiding local police in this large-scale operation.
“The aim of this operation is to keep NSW safe – the broader NSW community, as well as NSW Police officers and operation support personnel,” the Commissioner said.
“I know this closure will inconvenience many on both sides of the border, but the dangers and flow-on effects that accompany a second wave of COVID-19 are not something we want to see for our state.” he continued, in NSW Police’s media statement.
The implementation of the Order was credited to the rising number of recent community transmissions in Victoria, and discussions between the Victorian and NSW Governments.
All of Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire are currently in ‘Stage 3’ lockdown for six weeks, after unexpected outbreaks have caused a surge in cases in Victoria and raised Australia’s death toll.
Controversy was caused after nine tower blocks of public housing were placed into what was dubbed “hard lockdown” which entailed that residents will not be allowed to leave their units under almost any circumstance for 5-14 days, as the Government sought to test every resident.
This was motivated by 24 cases that had been diagnosed in the estate, with this now growing to a total of 53 case so far, as tests continue to be conducted.
Concerns were sparked due to the lack of warning and support services provided to residents, noting that many cannot speak English and are distrustful of police. The estate has a history of racist policing, with Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre lobbying for public reporting on race data relating Stop and Search practices to end racial profiling in 2016. Their calls were largely ignored.
“We are now in a living jail, locked in our homes with police patrolling every floor. However, in jail you are allowed out for exercise while we are not.” stated one resident.
“This is not about punishment. It’s about protection for thousands of vulnerable people – many of whom have major underlying health conditions.” explained Daniel Andrews, Victorian Premier in response to claims that likened the “hard lockdown” to a punitive measure.
“Voices from the Blocks knows that there needs to be trust between the people and relevant officers for health initiatives to be effective. You cannot build trust by deploying 500 police officers inside people’s homes and criminalising them.” said ‘Voices from the Blocks’, an advocacy group created for the residents.
There have been claims that police have used unreasonable force and taken an overwhelmingly heavy-handed approach, such as within incidents of tackling volunteers who merely sought to drop off food. Advocates have distinguished such incidents as symptomatic of the “legacy of over-policing and discrimination”.
“Volunteers are exposing themselves to police brutality in order to provide basis essential medical and food services for residents,” said Tigist Kebede, a counsellor and community member.
Voices from the Blocks advised they could not provide further details of the incidents as of yet when requested for further comment.
Melbourne Activist Legal reported: “an extraordinary range of issues, barriers, abuse, threats, misinformation and even assault and an arrest of an aid volunteer all during attempts to deliver food.”
Eight of the nine tower blocks have now been moved into ‘Stage 3’ lockdown in accordance with the rest of the state, whilst the ‘Alfred St’ tower remains in “hard lockdown” for 9 more days.
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