• Rikka Shillingsworth was fined $1000 after her cousin gave her a lift to pick up her essential groceries. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Residents in the remote NSW town of Brewarrina say too many people are being fined thousands of dollars amid the state-wide COVID lock-down.
By
Lindy Kerin

Source:
NITV News
23 Aug 2021 - 9:11 AM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2021 - 9:13 AM

On Thursday, Rikka Shillingsworth was met by two police officers when she returned home from picking up her groceries from the supermarket.

“They were asking me questions ... he (the officer) insisted on searching my property,” she told NITV News.

The Ularoi, Wailwan, Murawari and Budjiti woman made the order earlier that morning and had waited all day for the delivery.

She doesn’t drive, so she walked the 2.5 kilometres trip to the store twice to pick up the groceries, but they weren’t ready both times. 

She started to grow anxious. So, she asked her cousin to give her a lift to the shop on the third attempt.

“It was two boxes and three bags. After walking 2.5 kilometers from the outskirts of Brewarrina twice that day, I was fed up. I had to call somebody, I had to call somebody to come pick me up to go and retrieve that shopping,” she said.

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After searching Rikka’s home, officers left and returned the next day to deliver a thousand dollar fine for breaching public health orders.

“He told me that I wasn't compliant with Section, 7, 8 and 9, which was, I can't make contact with anybody outside my residence.”

Her cousin has also been given a $1000 fine.

There are currently no cases of the virus in Brewarrina.

Rikka Shillingsworth said it felt unfair and didn’t take into consideration the realities of living in a tiny community.

“It isn’t fair, especially when people live two kilometres outside of the actual township and a further two kilometres from the shop. People have no cars.”

She’s also worried about Elders in the community who rely on family and community members for help to pick up essentials.

'We cannot pay these fines'

Just over a week ago, Rikka delivered masks and sanitisers to community members and organized food deliveries.

“In Aboriginal communities, we like to help each other, it's in our culture to do so,” she said.

“We lean on our community to help us, to get us through these times, and unfortunately the sad thing is that we can't have any communication whatsoever with any family member, any Elder in our community and children.”

Rikka says others in the community have received similar fines.

“A lot of other people in surrounding communities have got three thousand dollar fines, two thousand dollar fines, and your basic one thousand dollar fine,” she said.

“People are wondering how they're going to pay those fines outside of COVID If ever the lockdown breaks.

“The reality is that the majority of Indigenous people in Brewarrina are now on Centrelink and the stress of a thousand dollar fine, we can't pay that. That's the full situation … we cannot pay these fines.”

Rikka’s Aunty got a $5000 fine for breaching restrictions after taking an Elder to the shop to get her essentials.

She’d had a COVID test and unlike the city, results in regional NSW can take up to five days to be returned.

Rikka said it’s causing a lot of stress and anxiety in the town that’s going through its first lockdown.

Extreme concern over policing

Across the state, as part of ‘Operation Stay Home’ NSW police officers have issued more than 940 infringement notices to people for not complying with COVID restrictions.

The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT said it was concerned about over-policing of Aboriginal communities and worried about the potential for Aboriginal people to be unfairly targeted and intimidated.

A spokesperson for the ALS NSW/ACT told NITV it has received several court attendance notices for Aboriginal people who have been fined for alleged breaches of public health orders in regional NSW.

“During last year’s COVID lockdown, police handed out the most fines in suburbs with a high Aboriginal population,” said Anthony Carter, Deputy CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT. 

“People living in Mount Druitt, Liverpool, Green Valley, Blacktown and Redfern topped the list.

“This is no surprise – statistics demonstrate that Aboriginal people are typically subject to over-policing.”

“We are extremely concerned.”

The ALS has urged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW and the ACT to contact them for help with infringement notices.

It’s also called on the NSW Government to provide clearer and accessible information on the COVID rules.

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