As a group of community lawyers, we call on the Victorian Government to adopt a public health-based response that encourages COVID safe behaviour and compliance with the latest lockdown circuit breaker restrictions.
We believe a public health response should not heavily rely again on the use of fines during this circuit breaker lockdown.
During the earlier lockdowns we saw certain groups within the community, already being over policed, being much more likely to be fined. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were at least five times more likely than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be fined. People living in lower socio-economic areas were twice as likely to be fined, and people born in East Africa and young people were also overrepresented in those people issued COVID fines.
Adopting a public health-based response that uses education and warnings to help people
understand and comply with health advice is more effective and compassionate than issuing fines.
We welcome the education approach recently taken by Victoria Police in its compliance crackdown to ensure community members are wearing masks on public transport. Police handed out masks to commuters and would only fine where someone refused to wear a mask without a valid reason for not wearing one.
We know from earlier lockdowns that fines don’t keep the community safe: masks, social distancing and vaccinations will.
It is more effective to provide assistance to comply with directions, asking people ‘how we can help you follow the restrictions?’ rather than ‘are you breaking them?’
Children under 18 should be warned and referred to community supports and education to address barriers to good COVID safe health.
Fines should only to be used as a last resort.
Unfortunately, in earlier lockdowns the public health response relied heavily on use of fines – with over 40,000 fines being issued. Around 90% of COVID fines issued to date have not been paid. Many people we assist are in a financial positon that means they will never be able to repay such excessive fines.
Even though government has halved the amount of COVID fines for under 18s, most children will still not be able to pay and will instead accumulate stressful debt. If unpaid, there is the risk that these young people will be pulled into the justice system.
There is a risk that vulnerable people saddled with these crushing fines will be left behind in COVID-19 recovery.
Fitzroy Legal Service
Inner Melbourne Legal Centre
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
Barwon Community Legal Service
Springvale Monash Legal Service Inc
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