We Can’t Arrest Our Way Out Of A Pandemic

Kieran Adair

April 3, 2020

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We Can’t Arrest Our Way Out Of A Pandemic

Why is it that Australian politicians now almost instinctively reach for fines and crimes to solve all problems confronting them? In the absence of any coherent policies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, State Premiers are falling over themselves to create new fines and prison terms. The Prime Minister even wants the army deployed on to the streets.

COVID-19 is a health crisis not a law and order crisis. It could do with an army of health workers moving door to door giving advice and assistance, not police and soldiers.

It is as if we have become the enemy to our political leaders.

The irony is that Australian citizens and businesses were streets ahead of any government in dealing with this crisis. While governments dithered, we listened to medical advisors, we began to isolate ourselves, we practiced social distancing, we pulled our kids out of schools, we shut businesses and began working from home. None of these life saving actions were at the direction of the Government.

The Real Risk To Public Heath

We did it ourselves, calmly and responsibly while the NSW Government was doing little more than dreaming up yet another nasty piece of public order legislation – the NSW Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement Order 2020).

Our politicians may be keen to reach for police and guns, but the major viral outbreak of this crisis didn’t come from civilians in need of sterner policing – it came from the ineptitude of government departments. A fortnight ago, the government and Border Force allowed passengers from an infected cruise ship, the Ruby Princess, to disembark directly into heart of Sydney. More than 500 passengers from the Ruby Princess have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. So far, no Government official has been fined or punished for that mistake.

It has been equally disturbing to see images at the International Arrivals hall Sydney Airport of passengers jostling, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the passport queues under the direct control of Border Force. These are the acts that have truly endangered us.  Perhaps some prison terms for Border Force officials would sharpen their focus a little?

The Law And Order Lockdown

The new laws ban group gatherings of more than two people – unless those people are members of the same household – or are meeting for reasons that are ‘essential for work or education’. They also make it unlawful to leave your place of residence except ‘to obtain food or other goods and services’, travel to work and education, exercise and a limited number of other reasons. The orders give police the power to issue fines of up-to $11,000 or charges that could lead to six months prison terms.

When asked, the NSW Premier’s office was not able to specify what evidence citizens could provide to police if accused of breaching these new laws. Instead, we are told that individual police officers will have discretion to decide who gets penalised – a greenlight for biased policing. The very sort of policy that has led to police scandalously being allowed to randomly choose which of our children should be stripped searched at railway stations.

So far, police have used their new powers to fine: a sex worker, a man eating a kebab on a bench, a man washing windows for small change, and a group of men drinking on the street in Bankstown. These fines have been issued exclusively in Western Sydney and regional NSW, rather than in the COVID-19 hotspots of the North Shore and Eastern Suburbs – and no Government official has been penalised for their negligence.

Before creating more fines and prison sentences for us – the NSW Government should start by taking a look at its own ranks.

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Written By Kieran Adair

Kieran Adair is a reporter for Xenophon Davis, covering government accountability, civil liberties, and whistleblower trials. He has previously written for the Michael West, Guardian Australia, and Sydney Criminal Lawyers. Twitter: @kieranadair_

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