MEDIA RELEASE 17 August 2021

The imposition of curfews this week raises the troubling prospect that the Andrews Government has not learnt from the decision-making errors it made during the first year of the pandemic. It is detracting attention from vaccines and public health messaging and still thinks it can police its way out of the pandemic.

The Andrews Government has a long track record of making decisions on the fly with little regard to expert advice. We saw these poor decision-making processes exposed at the inquiry into hotel quarantine. VALS has continuously advocated for better public health measures and social supports as the only way to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been vocal in warning the Andrews Government about the destructive and harmful effects of trying to police the pandemic.

Policing measures disproportionately affect already marginalised groups, especially Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. We know from what little data has been made public that COVID fines have mostly been used to police low-income communities. A renewed fetishization of law enforcement stands to undermine hard earnt progress by the community.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have been tremendously successful in keeping themselves and the broader population safe from COVID transmission and are working hard to ensure high vaccination rates. The work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to build community support for effective COVID strategies is undermined when police use COVID restrictions to target community members.

VALS again calls on the Andrews Government to ensure that the pandemic response is:

  • Based on specific health advice. There must be a clear connection between the health advice and the restrictive measures to be imposed.
  • Compliance with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. The Andrews Government should produce a document similar to a Statement of Compatibilities for any restrictions they intend to enact.

The advice, analysis and reasoning the Andrews Government relies on must be made publicly available.

Victoria Police have been given extensive emergency powers during the pandemic. VALS wants the Andrews Government to ensure that when Victoria Police have stopped someone in relation to public health rules, they are not permitted to:

  • Execute outstanding warrants.
  • Question them about unrelated matters.
  • Search them, except for serious crimes specified by legislation.

Victoria Police should make COVID fines data publicly accessible and transparent. The community should know how many fines are being issued and where, to ensure that the powers aren’t disproportionately used against Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Dan Andrews still refuses to apologise to residents of the public housing in North Melbourne and Flemington that was shut down without warning, a decision that the Victorian Ombudsman found was not based in evidence.

With increased powers should come increased accountability. VALS has seen several questionable COVID fines issued by Victoria Police, with their subsequent internal review process simply rubber stamping those decisions, without providing an explanation as to how the review decisions have been reached. A suite of increased accountability and transparency measures should include accountability for the issuing of COVID fines, to prove they are justifiable.

Quotes Attributable to Andreea Lachsz, Head of Policy, Communications and Strategy at the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“Victorians have weathered multiple COVID outbreaks with their commitment and resolve to keeping each other safe. The extraordinary powers given to Victoria Police only serve to undermine community spirit and put Victoria at further risk of an uncontrollable outbreak.”

“Restrictions that the Andrews Government imposes must be based on specific health advice, and there must be a clear nexus between the health advice and the restrictive measures to be imposed. As a jurisdiction with a Human Rights Charter, we expect that restrictions imposed are demonstrably compliant with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.”

“This moment of crisis requires the Government to build community trust through greater transparency, accountability, clear messaging and urgent resourcing for the socio-economic supports the community so desperately needs. What is not needed is a Government reverting yet again to policing the pandemic, targeting marginalised communities.”

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and other marginalised and vulnerable communities, are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s impacts. Victoria will not recover from the pandemic by leaving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people behind.”