Sunday, April 19, 2020

New coronavirus laws give police too much power

Laws restricting our movement introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have given police the opportunity to flex their muscles over the Easter holidays. They have fined hundreds of people so far for leaving their homes without "a reasonable excuse".

Public order legislation like this has long been criticised for the discriminatory way in which it is used against marginalised members of society - the indigent, the homeless, the young, and Indigenous Australians. These new laws are no exception, although normally law-abiding citizens are now also finding themselves under the police glare.

A key problem is that public order legislation like this often uses open-ended and vague terms to describe behaviour which creates an offence and allows police to act. That gives police broad and discretionary powers to decide what is against the law and what isn't.

Under the new public health directions in NSW, some activities are expressly defined to provide a “reasonable excuse” for leaving your house. But whether other activities provide a “reasonable excuse” is a matter left for the exercise of police discretion.

This is where the difficulty begins. The day after these restrictions were enacted, the authorities in NSW and Victoria publicly expressed contradictory views on whether they allowed a person to leave home to visit their boyfriend or girlfriend. (Victoria, quite properly, amended their restrictions to make it clear that this was allowed.) Whether a person commits an offence by visiting a loved one should not be left to the discretion of the Police Commissioner.

Indeed, the prominence given to the NSW Police Commissioner in relation to what is at heart a public health crisis is also perplexing.

His recent comments about the attempts by the NRL to restart competition surely stepped over the line between policing and policy. So did his strident condemnation of activity which is not, in fact, prohibited.

If golf is an allowable form of exercise then so too, surely, is surfing. There is no prohibition on walking through bushland, or swimming at a beach, or sitting on the grass in a park. Each of these activities can be undertaken consistently with leaving one’s place of residence for the permissible purpose of exercising, yet each of these activities has been the subject of public shaming and policing action.

The public shaming has undoubtedly inspired an element of “self-help”. One MP, Labor’s Liesl Tesch, took it upon herself to knock on a stranger’s door and inspect their licence to confirm they were a “local”. Others have used the new restrictions as a basis for more readily obtaining police attendance at what would otherwise be a mere complaint about noise.

That self-help may have also claimed a political scalp - it is far from obvious that former NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin breached any law by driving between one place of residence and another.

NSW Police have taken to providing regular updates about people who have been charged with offences or issued with penalty infringement notices. Interestingly, these are often accompanied by move-on directions. The descriptions of the offending behaviour provided by police do not establish a clear basis for the exercise of these powers.

It is too early to assess whether COVID-19-related penalty infringement notices are being issued disproportionately in socioeconomically disadvantaged parts of Sydney (despite the publicly-shamed behaviour occurring in more wealthy parts). But the descriptions provided by police forces throughout Australia already suggest that these new regulations have been frequently enforced against the homeless, the mentally unwell, and youth.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a challenge for public health regulation. Police enforcement necessarily accompanies that regulation. But for the public to have confidence in these restrictive measures, they need to be clearly defined.

Further, these measures need to be enforced in a way which is clearly directed towards protecting public health - and not as a proxy for public order. Public confidence in the justice system demands the same.


When a mother accused parents of having “blood on their hands”, Samantha Maiden knew things had reached a new level of weird

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that the debate on schools, kids, and COVID-19 in Australia descended into complete hysteria.

One minute the kids in my suburb were enjoying a few weeks of sunshine after smoke blanketed the city and closed the highway out to the beach.

The next, the coronavirus appeared on the horizon and parents seemed to divide into warring camps of those who wanted kids to stay at school and those calling for shutdowns.

Personally, it was only when I read a Facebook post from a mother accusing parents who wanted to send kids to school of having “blood on their hands” that it was clear things had got pretty weird.

Parents all over Australia are dealing with home schooling kids, and not all are loving it. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Parents all over Australia are dealing with home schooling kids, and not all are loving it. Picture: Jake NowakowskiSource:News Corp Australia

Another highlight - my 10-year-old son getting bailed up by a woman pushing a pram down at the local park and asked if he was in a “family group” with the other 10-year-old child at the basketball court. Unhappy with the answer, she started photographing them.

Like most Australians, my family supports the measures to introduce social distancing and close state and international borders. The border closures are vital and need to stay in place.

The debate over when to reduce restrictions around schools, however, is a minefield.

Many parents still believe that children are silent carriers of COVID-19 and schools are “petri dishes” with students infecting teachers.

Some parents and teachers are happy to keep schools closed indefinitely if it “saves lives”. But does it?

Some of the nation’s top scientific minds advising Australia’s COVID-19 response concede we simply don’t know yet if school closures have had a big impact at all.

But the early evidence here in Australia and China is that students are not big spreaders to adult teachers in school.

That’s why the argument “why can I teach a classroom of 30 kids but not go to a pub with adults?” is not a particularly good argument. It is different, according to the scientists who study the coronavirus.

For years politicians have been urged to listen to the science on climate change, but teachers and parents who don’t want to return to classrooms won’t listen to the experts on COVID-19 and schools.

The official medical advice has never changed: schools remain safe to stay open.

What changed is some states buckled under the pressure of parents and teachers’ unions to close schools.

Many parents took that as a message that schools are unsafe. They promptly voted with their feet and kept kids at home.

In some states, education ministers have proposed to re-open schools “when the health advice changes”, despite the fact it never advised to shut schools in the first place.

Around about the same time my son was getting bailed up by the basketball police in mid-March, the deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly gave a very simple explanation about what we know about COVID-19 and kids.

“We know from where the virus has broken out, very few kids get the illness,’’ he said.

“Those that get the illness are mainly mild, they don’t appear to be transmitted between children – in fact, it’s more likely that children will get it from their own parents and other people in their households. And closing schools, we know, does cause a major disruption to society and to families.”

Just four days later, schools around the country started to effectively shut down.

The idea of a sensible middle way, where you allow at-risk teachers to work from home and extend the same choice to families, was sacrificed on the altar of panic and fear.

So, don’t be fooled by the soothing tones of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s love letter to the nation’s teachers this week in his Facebook video.

The message was blunt: If supermarket workers, truck drivers and hospital cleaners can fight COVID-19 for the minimum wage by simply doing their day jobs, why are teachers still working from home?

The Prime Minister’s message was designed to get parents to ask more questions about why schools are closed.

Respecting teachers’ amazing work educating children and making the switch to distance learning should not preclude parents from questioning politicians’ decision to close schools.

Despite claims essential workers can send children to school if necessary, many parents I have spoken to say teachers actively discourage this. Certainly, this was also my experience.

But the real risk of the current arrangements is not inconvenience for parents but lifelong consequences for disadvantaged teenagers.

On the eve of a recession, some will leave school without even finishing high school and never return.

Others will be trapped at home with parents who may be struggling with unemployment, depression and substance abuse. These kids have a right to an education. They are safer at school.

As feared, many grandparents are being called on to help with homeschooling, just as authorities feared.

Just like the brawls over toilet paper in supermarket aisles, this is a debate that has sometimes seemed more driven by fear, emotion, and anxiety than science.

If you don’t want to send your kids to school, you remain free not to. But families who want their kids to return to classrooms should be offered the same choice.


Australia’s kangaroo courts

Bettina Arndt

Whilst here too public attention is also firmly on the pandemic, our own unfair system of adjudicating rape on campus remains firmly in place, despite the Queensland Supreme Court decision last November determining that universities have no jurisdiction to adjudicate sexual assault. At the time Education Minister Dan Tehan told the universities, through TEQSA, to leave such matters to the criminal courts.

As I am sure most of you know, I spent last year speaking on university campus drawing attention to these illegal courts – clearly with considerable success, given the ferocious orchestrated attack on me by End Rape on Campus activists following the award of my Australia Day honour.

Earlier in January I had recruited people to send a draft letter to universities across Australia asking a series of questions compiled by lawyers who are helping with this project, to try to ascertain each university’s status regarding regulations adjudicating sexual assault. See the draft letter here.

The answers from the universities ranged from arrogant, dismissive one-liners, to pages of long, obtuse gobbledegook. Our lawyers are working on compiling an overview document to sum up how the university sector is dealing with this issue.

With all our courts closed down at the moment, there’s no news yet on University of Queensland’s appeal of the Supreme Court decision. I’ll let you know when we hear more about that.

Bettina Arndt:

Calls for pointless lockdown restrictions to be lifted

The first lockdown restrictions that should be relaxed are the ones that “don’t make biological sense, Australian National University infectious diseases physician Peter Collignon says.

“Sitting on a bench by yourself, fishing by yourself, walking on a beach if it’s not crowded. Why do they matter?” he told

“These things protect people’s sanity when there are going to be restrictions for a long time.”

Australians are living under strict lockdown rules in some states but the Morrison Government has flagged restrictions could be eased in four weeks, once three things are in place.

Prof Collignon believes pubs will still be closed for a while but other activities that were low risk could be looked at.

“A lot of things we are doing are panic reactions from seeing on television what’s happening in New York or London, where they have lost control of the infection, rather than doing what they are doing in Korea, which is a similar nation to us” he said.

Once nonsensical restrictions were lifted, Prof Collignon believes the next step would be looking at restrictions in places like South Australia, which were less strict compared to states like Victoria.

If South Australia’s restrictions are working to control the virus, then other more strict controls may not be necessary.

South Australia doesn’t have a two-person limit on gatherings, and instead allows groups of up to 10 people to meet. It also doesn’t force people to stay home unless they have a good reason, such as exercising.

Despite this, it has managed to get its new infections down to very low numbers, or even zero new cases on some days.

Prof Collignon said the basic advice to keep 1.5 to 2 metres away from others, and for people to wash their hands regularly, seemed to make a lot of difference. “We know this works and people will keep doing this intuitively over time,” he said.

But others, such as allowing people to go to supermarkets but not let them go outside even if they were two metres apart, did not.

He said it was important that the rules made sense if people were expected to maintain social distancing measures for six months to two years.

“A lot of people will go stir crazy if they are locked inside their houses,” he said.

“We’ve got to work out what to do based on a nuanced approach rather than imposing what works in a place like Bondi Beach across the entire state.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked what restrictions could be eased first during an interview on 7.30 on Thursday night.

He said they would want to move on things like construction and manufacturing and those types of activity.

“Today we talked at National Cabinet in particular about things like infrastructure and how we can get some of those works moving,” he said.

He said there would also be opportunities in retail.

“I think what you’ll see is more people being able to work at work, that might be on a roster type basis. I mean, some of that is happening now already,” he said.

“But what we are looking to do, and schools also come into that ultimately, and what we’re looking to do is get the pace, get the churn, the activity in the economy moving back up.
“Because when that happens, then people’s jobs come back into play. Their incomes come back more strongly. And their reliance on the welfare system and the JobKeeper program will diminish over time.

“The way out of this is to get on top of the virus and to get people back into work and in their incomes. When we do that, we’re winning.”


Property industry figures are questioning the NSW Government’s $440 million rental package that offers little help to one group of renters and some believe unfairly puts the burden onto landlords

Major property industry figures have raised questions about the NSW Government’s $440 million rent relief package announced this week.

While welcoming the clarity after weeks of speculation, some industry leaders believe the package does not solve the crisis.

The plan announced this week includes allocating $220 million to residential renters and landlords as well as an interim two-month moratorium that leads into a six-month ban on all evictions because of COVID-19.

The CEO of peak industry body REINSW, Tim McKibbin, said while the measures are a start, it fails to address many concerns such as passing the financial burden from tenants to landlords.

House for rent. Real estate sign. Front yard. No people.
An interim two-month moratorium on evictions is in place across the state. “The plan continues to expect a great deal of landlords to shoulder a significant amount of the burden,” he said.

Mr McKibbin said while the government was absolutely right to offer assistance to tenants, there is little protection for landlords, 80 per cent of whom are mum and dad investors with one investment property.

“What if the landlord loses their job or faces difficulties? These are questions that are not being asked at the moment,” he said.

“While they can take a mortgage holiday, in the end they are still going to be stuck with higher repayments once this is all over.”

Mr McKibbin said one of the biggest grey areas not addressed is the eligibility of share houses for assistance if only one party is affected.

“The policy does not state whether the whole household needs to meet the threshold or if only the individual needs to,” he said.

“There is also no clarity on if assistance would cover the entire household, even to those not affected by COVID-19, or if the one who lost their job is the only beneficiary.”

The Tenant’s Union of NSW welcomed a temporary stop on evictions, a requirement for landlords to engage in meaningful negotiations and greater advocacy support for tenants.

“This is an important announcement which gives people greater certainty about their living situation and their ability to stay home during the COVID-19 period,” said Leo Patterson Ross, CEO of the Tenants’ Union.

Mr Patterson Ross said it was important the proposal provides a comprehensive moratorium and rent relief package that does not open up loopholes.

Ray White managing director Dan White said there needs to be a clear and efficient process for both tenant and landlord to prove hardship from COVID-19.

“As an industry we think we can play a role in helping all parties achieve this,” he said.

Mr White said a concern surrounding vulnerable tenancies was that insurers were yet to clarify if landlord insurance covers epidemics such as COVID-19.

“Landlord insurance providers are all currently advising that a termination process should be stringently followed by managing agents to ensure a future rent default claim will be upheld in the landlord’s favour,” he said.

The Ray White managing director said it was their position that tenants who do not have the ability to meet the financial commitment of their rent because of COVID-19 should have the right to terminate their lease without penalty.

 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

1 comment:

Paul said...

Maybe Mr Collignon hasn't yet woken to the fact that the enforcement is about obedience, not about the real world, as anyone who has ever had a speed camera fine for doing 65 in a four-lane 60 zone at 2 in the morning can attest.

Obedience demonstrates that control is working. Expect more, not less demands for obedience to unrealistic rules. A good crisis never goes to waste these days.