Police in Victoria have handed out nearly 20,000 fines for Covid-19 breaches during the coronavirus pandemic, a parliamentary inquiry has been told.
Lisa Neville, the state’s police minister, told a Covid-19 inquiry on Wednesday officers had issued 19,324 fines, including 1,669 for failing to wear a mask and 2,145 for people breaching the Melbourne curfew.
There were 5,761 fines for “non-compliance of directions” and 20 fines issued to people who had failed to self-isolate.
The Victorian fines vastly outnumber those handed out in New South Wales where a police spokeswoman confirmed on Wednesday officers had issued 1,440 fines since 17 March.
“This includes 1,421 issued to individuals and 19 issued to businesses,” the NSW police spokeswoman told the Guardian.
Restrictions in NSW have been relaxed over the past two months, but Melburnians are subject to stage-four restrictions that limit their movement, including an 8pm to 5am curfew.
In Victoria, fines include $200 for failing to wear a mask, $1,500 for most breaches and $5,000 for breaching 14-day self-isolation directions. Most breaches in NSW attract a $1,000 fine.
The inquiry also heard there had been an increase in the number of Victorians electing to challenge their fines including those electing to take them to court.
Some 1,108 Covid-19 fines were being disputed with Victoria police, while the chief commissioner, Shane Patton, said 528 fines were headed to the magistrates court.
Victoria has been criticised by some human rights groups for the scale of compliance actions that have accompanied public health restrictions during the state’s second wave.
Police data previously provided to the inquiry has shown Victoria’s three most disadvantaged local government areas received 10% of all fines in the first two months of the pandemic.
Analysis by Guardian Australia has also suggested areas with large migrant populations and social housing have been among the most heavily enforced.
Patton told the inquiry police only issued fines in the case of an “obvious and blatant breach” of the chief health officer’s guidelines.
“Our members have issued thousands of warnings,” he said.
Victoria’s emergency management commissioner, Andrew Crisp, was also publicly quizzed for the first time over the state’s bungled hotel quarantine system.
Crisp and the Australian Defence Force, as well as the federal defence minister, Linda Reynolds, have contradicted each other over whether Victoria was offered help in late March.
Crisp repeated his position that the ADF never offered support with the hotel quarantine scheme during two key meetings on 27 and 28 March when the program was established.
“I don’t recall any direct offer being made in relation to hotel quarantine,” Crisp said.
He said he had not requested any support from the ADF to help guard returned travellers, stating authorities believed they had the “resources within the state to meet the needs of that particular program”.
This month, Crisp issued an explosive statement challenging Reynolds’s claim that Victoria knocked back an offer to have ADF force help with the program.
Under questioning from Nationals MP Danny O’Brien, Crisp on Wednesday confirmed he had discussed the media release with the secretary of the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
They had discussed a need to “clarify the facts”, but no one from the premier’s office or any ministers’ offices were involved, he said.
Crisp also confirmed that recordings from the two key meetings on 27 March and 28 March had been provided to the former judge Jennifer Coate’s inquiry.
Earlier, the chief executive of WorkSafe Victoria, Colin Radford, revealed the watchdog was investigating eight hotel quarantine sites over a lack of PPE and training for private security guards.
He said Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions were also the subject of WorkSafe probes for Covid-19 breaches.
The attorney general, Jill Hennessy, said WorkSafe probes of government departments were common and demonstrated the independence of the regulator.
Source: The Guardian