Western and South-Western Sydney residents condemn inconsistent Covid compliance policing

Images of packed beaches during Sydney's Covid lockdown – like this scene at North Bondi last week – have incensed some residents of Western and South-Western Sydney. Photo: Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image.

By TILEAH DOBSON

Greater Sydney’s second Covid-19 lockdown is highlighting the once hidden divisions within Sydney and its surrounding areas, with the emergence of differing approaches to Covid compliance policing and the issuing of Covid related fines.

Operation Stay At Home was launched by NSW Police on 16 August 2021, with additional resources provided by the Australian Defence Force (ADF), significantly increasing police presence and patrols in Western and South-Western Sydney.

Map of Covid cases broken down by LGAs as of 15 September, 2021. Image: NSW Government.

At the time, NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said the state government was supporting NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller’s requests for stronger powers.

“The Commissioner asked for tighter Public Health Orders and the government agreed, the Commissioner asked for higher fines and the Government agreed, and the Commissioner asked for more ADF personnel, and we have an additional 500 highly-trained ADF personnel arriving to assist,” Mr Elliott said.

However, residents have been incorrectly fined by the police for either sitting on a bench to eat a kebab or sitting in a car. An open letter from over 100 members of the legal, academic and political professions has been sent to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, urging her government to rescind wrongly issued Covid fines.

Redfern Legal Centre calls for an end to unjust fines. Image: @RLC_CEO/Twitter.

Redfern Legal Centre, which spearheaded the letter, has provided assistance to numerous people who have been incorrectly issued fines ranging from $1,000 to $3,000. CEO of Redfern Legal Centre Joanna Shulman has spoken out against the injustice of these fines.

“It is clearly unjust to leave it up to individuals to appeal these wrongly issued Covid-19 fines. If a government body has made a mistake and not issued fines according to law, then it should rectify that mistake. People are already suffering from the economic impact of Covid-19 – and risk being plunged further into debt because of an error in administering the law,” Ms Shulman said.

Images and videos of Eastern Suburbs residents flocking to packed beaches, juxtaposed with reports of four people arrested at Rookwood Cemetery for attending a funeral, have caused public outcry.

City of Canterbury Bankstown Mayor, Khal Asfour, said double standards were at play.

“We saw the pictures on the weekend of Bondi and Coogee and the Eastern Suburbs beaches, and I don’t begrudge anyone that lives close to the beach to be able to go there, but when we’re stuck at home and we didn’t have any hours of recreation, it makes my community angry, frustrated. We’re fatigued after 12 weeks of lockdown,” Mr Asfour said.

“It shows a double standard in policing. People there weren’t wearing masks, weren’t social distancing. Yet, when someone in my community attends a funeral … wearing a mask, social distancing, they get arrested and taken by police,” he said.

“One gets arrested when they’re grieving. The other gets to sunbake. It doesn’t make any sense.”

North Ward councillor for Liverpool City Council, Nathan Hagarty, voiced similar grievances on behalf of residents in his LGA.

“I’m not angry at people taking advantage of some beautiful Sydney spring weather as long as it is within the restrictions. I am angry that people from Liverpool living in suburbs like Edmondson Park with 90 per cent-plus vaccination rates cannot.

“Why are these suburbs still in lockdown … despite doing the hard work the premier and the state government have asked of them? The premier’s response that ‘There are waterways all across Greater Sydney’ is out of touch and frankly, offensive,” Mr Hagarty said.

New vaccine milestone

In related news, NSW has passed another significant milestone, with more than half of the state’s population aged 16 and over now fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

This morning, it was revealed that 50.6 per cent of the population had been full vaccinated, while 81.2 per cent had received their first dose.

Another 1,331 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm last night, as well as six more deaths.

There are currently 1,219 people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in NSW, including 233 people in intensive care, 123 of whom require ventilation.

Tileah Dobson is the news editor of the Sydney Sentinel.