No crowds: The NSW Police minister says $1000 on the spot fines, and $5000 fines for businesses, will be issued to those not obeying health rules around mass gatherings and self-isolation.
Supermarkets can open at Easter and all day Anzac Day, prisoners may be released from jail early and police have been given the power to arrest people suspected of breaching self-isolation rules or any other public health directive.
This is part of the new world order that was adopted by NSW parliament on Tuesday night, which Keira MP Ryan Park – who supported the law changes – has described as “martial law”.
The emergency COVID-19 pandemic laws also mean new developments needed for health and welfare can be pushed through without the normal planning approvals process, and council elections – due in September- may be pushed back a year.
Councillors around the state no longer need to meet in person, filmed evidence will be used in more court cases and jury trials will become less common, under extreme – but temporary – law changes.
Mr Park, who was in parliament to pass the laws before it broke for up to six months, said he never expected to see a day he would support extreme measures, which “goes against everything I believe in, in normal circumstances”.
“I never thought I would be there on the floor of the oldest parliament in the country, with just a few of us there, passing the most extreme laws and legislation that our generation will ever see, it’s certainly a moment in time I will never forget.
“The only positive is that both the government and opposition will work together and do whatever we can.”
The law changes, are amendments to 20 existing acts, will be in place for six to 12 months, with most to be enacted “by regulation” under the power of the relevant minister.
On Wednesday, commissioner Mick Fuller reaffirmed the commitment of the NSW Police Force to use all powers available to officers to enforce all COVID-19-related ministerial directions.
I never thought I would be there on the floor of the oldest parliament in the country, with just a few of us there, passing the most extreme laws and legislation that our generation will ever see, it’s certainly a moment in time I will never forget.
He said police would start enforcing rules covering incoming travellers, diagnosed persons, mass gatherings and social distancing rules, and the closure of social gathering places.
Following the legislation amendments, police will have the additional power to issue infringement notices to anyone found to be in contravention of ministerial directions. These carry on-the-spot fines of $1000 for individuals and $5000 for businesses.
“I’m encouraged that most members of the community are taking this issue seriously and are adhering to the government advice,” Commissioner Fuller said. “However, disturbingly, our officers have already responded to dozens of reports of breaches from members of the community.”
Minister for Police David Elliott said the measures were tough but necessary to minimise the risk the pandemic poses to public safety.
“Despite the majority of people doing the right thing, we are still seeing reckless and irresponsible behaviour that endangers the lives of others, particularly to elderly and immunocompromised members of the community,” Mr Elliott said.
“The rules are clear. No more than one person should occupy a two by two metre area, and public places such as the beach and retail outlets are no exception.
“Our message to the community is simple: be vigilant, be sensible, and stay up to date with the latest health advice.
“No one is above the law. If you decide to ignore a direction to self-isolate, you will be caught and you may find yourself slapped with a hefty fine.”