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Speech: Policing the Pandemic

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:38): I rise to speak on the topic of policing the pandemic. We have heard many a time that we are living in unprecedented times, that this is the brave new world and our opportunity is before us to build a better world. Unfortunately, it seems that the more things have changed in recent months the more they have stayed the same.

Early on under the pandemic, quite understandably, many human rights and civil liberties groups were very concerned about the extraordinary powers that have been afforded under our various states' and territories' frameworks to police the pandemic, to enforce social distancing, to enforce a lack of crowds gathering and to enforce a range of public health measures.

I note that early on the Public Interest Advocacy Centre ran an online forum that I participated in and I was horrified to hear, even in those first few weeks, stories such as an international student who had been fined at her local skate park when the police refused to believe that she did not actually understand that she was not meant to be there. It was a fine on an international student who was suffering from mental health issues, facing extreme poverty, unable to return home, and unable to continue her employment due to the pandemic. Looking for some fresh air and a skate at the local skate park landed her with a significant financial burden to rub salt into her wounds.

Around the country, we have heard stories from Indigenous communities in particular that they are being policed more heavily. We do not have the statistics across the country in a coordinated way—the only state that is doing comprehensive reporting is New South Wales—but from what we do know, the approaches are very different in different states and territories.

The ACT, early on, had no fines issued; the head of the police there stated that they preferred education to ensure that people were embracing the public health messages. In New South Wales, where that recording was happening, we saw small towns in western New South Wales of less than 2,000 people and with high Indigenous populations, such as Walgett, copping extraordinarily high levels of fines, yet in the leafy green suburbs of Waverley and Randwick in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, where indeed the hot spots of COVID-19 were, there were increasingly very few fines in those particular suburbs.

It seems that South Australia is no different in its approach. This week, we have seen the release of some comprehensive figures about the fines issued in South Australia. At the top of the list is Port Augusta, with 41 fines so far. These are fines of over a thousand dollars a pop and more if you are a business, and Port Augusta, with one of the highest Indigenous populations in our state, tops the list for these pandemic fines.

Second on the list, unsurprisingly, is Adelaide, which you would expect to be in that top 10, with 31 fines. Following that is Burton, with 23 fines, then followed quickly by Penfield, with 15 fines, and Whyalla Norrie and Whyalla Stuart, with 13 and 12 fines respectively. Together, that totals 25 fines for the Whyalla cohort, which puts them at the third highest rate of fines. In the top 10 are Smithfield, Edwardstown, Murray Bridge, Tarpeena, Norwood, Croydon Park, Coober Pedy and Virginia. Of all the fines, I could not find a single one in Burnside council.

It seems that under the pandemic, the policing has not changed. It is those who are the poorest, those whose skin is not white, those whose first language is not English who are the ones copping the brunt of the policing of the pandemic. This is unacceptable.

I echo the calls of Tamar Hopkins, who is the lawyer at the Police Accountability Project in Melbourne and who has been following the breakdowns of infringements across the country, that all police forces across Australia need to release their figures and provide further detail as to the CALD and Aboriginality of those people copping these fines. At the moment, with Port Augusta topping the list, it certainly looks to me like we have a problem with the policing of the pandemic.

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