Coronavirus

Victorians slugged more than $10 million in coronavirus fines

A Victoria Police officer speaks to a man at St Kilda beach in Melbourne in April. Source: AAP

Victoria Police has issued 6,200 fines to individuals since the state's coronavirus restrictions came into effect in March - almost five times more than NSW Police.

Victorian police have issued more than $10 million worth of coronavirus-related fines since the pandemic hit Australia’s shores in March - 10 times more than neighbouring NSW.

The state issued 6,200 fines of $1,652 to individuals and another seven fines of $9,913 to businesses, adding up to $10,311,791 in fines. 

Victoria Police officers ask people to leave Melbourne's Brighton Beach.
Victoria Police officers ask people to leave Melbourne's Brighton Beach.
AAP

Queensland came in second in total fines issued, penalising 2,093 individuals $1,334.50 each and six businesses $6,672.50 each for a total of $2,833,143.50 in fines.

Despite being the country’s most populous state, NSW issued the third highest amount of fines.

NSW police handed out $1,000 infringement notices to 1,271 individuals and nine corporations were hit with $5000 fines each, adding up to $1,316,000 in revenue.

The Flemington Kensington Legal Centre’s Police Accountability Project investigates police misconduct in Victoria, with a strong focus on cases involving racialised policing.

Advocacy coordinator Daniel Nguyen said their data shows Victoria has issued more coronavirus-related fines than every other Australian state and territory combined.

Note: ACT issued zero fines, while Western Australia Police did not respond to SBS News' request for the data.
Note: ACT issued zero fines, while Western Australia Police did not respond to SBS News' request for the data.
Police

“The reality is it hasn’t come about just because of COVID-19, it is something that is a bit more systemic and engrained in policing,” he told SBS News.

“When we’re looking at the way police have interacted in Victoria, people have been fined with very inconsistent approaches - it has not been very defined.” 

Mr Nguyen said the Flemington Kensington Legal Centre had taken on multiple cases from Victorians who had received coronavirus fines, some of whom had been fined more than once.

But he said the volume of Victoria Police’s fines is not the only cause for concern; equally troubling to the Police Accountability Project is where those fines are being handed out.

“The problem is we’re seeing that some of Melbourne’s low socio-economic and high migrant areas are being disproportionately fined without a clear reason,” Mr Nguyen said.

“When you look at Dandenong, for example, which sits pretty much at the bottom end of all socio-economic indicators, is disadvantaged in parts and has a large multicultural community, you have 333 fines, but only 18 COVID-19 cases.

“If you flip that and look at Stonnington, which has high median incomes and high levels of education, you have 94 coronavirus cases but only 82 fines.”

Nationally, standing apart from the pack was the ACT, which has issued no fines and seven cautions in the three months since coronavirus restrictions came into effect.

NSW Police officers ask people to move on while on patrol at Rushcutters Bay in April.
NSW Police officers ask people to move on while on patrol at Rushcutters Bay in April.
AAP

“ACT Policing has taken an ‘inform and educate’ approach to the COVID-19 pandemic,” an ACT Policing spokesperson said. 

A combined effort of legal and human rights groups around the country, the COVID Policing project has been monitoring police interactions with the public during the pandemic, publishing more than 100 incident reports from people around the country since late March.

In a letter to the states’ police commissioners, the group has called on each police force to release demographic and postcode data for every stop, fine and move-on order issued under COVID-19 restrictions. 

They say transparency is the only way to make sure people from multicultural or low socio-economic communities are being treated fairly by police.

Police officers enforce social distancing at a Perth beach in April.
Police officers enforce social distancing at a Perth beach in April.
AAP

“While reports of over-policing and discriminatory police tactics have long been shared by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and many other people of colour across the Australian continent, governments, police and others in positions of power rarely act on or concede these facts without their own data and reports to legitimise on-the-ground truths,” the letter reads.

“While data on stops, fines and move-on orders remain secret, we have reason to believe that these communities continue to experience over-policing and disproportionate contact with police in the enforcement of the pandemic restrictions.” 

Similar data has been released in England, showing people of colour have been 54 per cent more likely to be fined than white people during the pandemic, and in New Zealand, where Māori people have been overrepresented in coronavirus policing. 

Police enforcement was lower away from Australia’s east coast, with 69 fines totalling $84,623 issued in the Northern Territory and 326 charges and summonses issued in Tasmania, where the courts decide the penalty.

South Australia Police issued 374 fines, but would not disclose the monetary value of each fine to SBS News.

The Western Australia Police Force had not responded to SBS News’ request for data at the time of publishing.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch