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Hanging in Groups Will Now Get You Fined in Parts of Australia

New South Wales Police have announced fines and possible jail time for anyone caught disobeying social distancing rules.
26 March 2020, 12:00pm
group gather fine australia new south wales
Image via Farooq Khan / AFP (L) and William West / AFP (R)

This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.

Increasingly stringent social distancing laws are being trotted out across Australia, with New South Wales police announcing the introduction of on-the-spot fines for anyone found to be breaking the rules.

As of midnight last night, individuals in breach of self isolation or social distancing measures could be hit with a AU$1000 fine, while businesses face fines of AU$5000, the ABC reported. In more extreme cases, according to powers granted to NSW Police, anyone caught flouting the restrictions could end up staring down the barrel of a six-month jail term.

“If you’re at [Sydney’s] Centennial Park and there’s an individual who’s organised a training session with over 10 people, the individual who organised it will get AU$5000 fine and the individuals training will get a AU$1000 fine,” NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said, as a case in point. “Police won’t be giving advice and guidance now, we’ll be taking strong action.

“In relation to the more serious charges, if we found someone who had the infection was visiting someone in a nursing home, we would expect that they would be charged and put before the court.”

The announcement of these penalties came just a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison further escalated social distancing restrictions on Tuesday in an attempt to combat the spread of COVID-19. Fuller stressed that the harsh sanctions were being put in place in order to make people pay attention to the advice of authorities, saying “I would much rather be able to start writing out tickets… that might just get people’s attention to start listening to the health minister, to start listening to the premier and the prime minister.”

But the issue for many Australians over the past few days and weeks seems to be a lack of clarity and consistency in what the health minister, the state premiers, and the prime minister are actually saying. This week alone Prime Minister Morrison has revised the shutdown measures at least three times—sometimes loosening the restrictions, sometimes tightening them—while federal and state governments continue to misalign and at times even contradict one another in their messaging.

Fuller pointed out that the new penalties apply to anyone in breach of the rules surrounding indoor and outdoor gatherings, weddings, and funerals—presuming the general public is abreast of what those rules happen to be on any given day. NSW Police Minister David Elliott meanwhile confirmed that there will be an increased police presence in the community (up to 70,000 officers) as well as random checks based on tip-offs provided through the Crime Stoppers hotline.

"We don't rule out any further developments when it comes to the enforcement of these regulations," he said. "Everything is on the table."

"We need to kill this virus before it kills us."

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