The Aboriginal Legal Service has expressed fear that efforts by the NSW Police Force to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the state will result in over-policing of Aboriginal communities.
‘Operation Stay at Home’
Last weekend, NSW Police launched a new effort to ensure compliance with public health orders across the state, which will see resources from all Police Districts and Police Area Commands under Metropolitan and Regional NSW Field Operations alongside officers attached to Traffic and Highway Patrol Command, Police Transport Command, Dog and Mounted Unit, and a number of other specialist commands as required.
Moreover, 1,400 officers attached to Traffic and Highway Patrol Command will be dedicated to both static and mobile COVID-19 compliance operations on the state’s roads and additional ADF troops to assist with compliance checks and patrols.
Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said that the NSW government was supporting the commissioner’s call for assistance in the most practical way.
“The Commissioner asked for tighter Public Health Orders and the government agreed, the Commissioner asked for higher fines and the Government agreed, and the Commissioner asked for more ADF personnel and we have an additional 500 highly-trained ADF personnel arriving to assist,” he said.
“We’ve had to tighten the current public health orders because of the minority who exploited them. Enough is enough. If you do it, you will get fined.”
Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon added that the operation would see more police on the ground across Greater Sydney, utilising some of the strongest powers ever given to police.
“The level of non-compliance by some members of the community is unacceptable and we will be doubling down with compliance and enforcement to make sure we get ahead of the Delta strain,” Deputy Commissioner Lanyon said.
Deputy Commissioner Mick Willing noted that preventing movement to regional areas from Sydney, and between regional areas, would be a key focus of the operation.
“There will be more roadblocks on main arterial roads and backroads from tomorrow, and these operations will continue to expand throughout this week in order to enforce the permit system announced by the NSW Government this morning,” he said.
“There will be nowhere to hide if you are doing the wrong thing. If you travel anywhere beyond your LGA at the moment, you are putting everyone else in NSW at considerable risk. From the start, this has been about reducing movement across the state and protecting the health and safety of everyone, and this operation significantly strengthens those efforts.”
In response to the unveiling of the new operation, the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT highlighted fears about the over-policing of Aboriginal communities, and urged Aboriginal people to seek assistance in dealing with infringement notices.
The service noted that – during the 2020 lockdown in NSW – “police handed out the most fines in suburbs with a high Aboriginal population”, with those living in Mount Druitt, Liverpool, Green Valley, Blacktown and Redfern being served with the most infringement notices.
“This is no surprise – statistics demonstrate that Aboriginal people are typically subject to over-policing,” said ALS deputy chief executive and Worimi and Gumbaynggirr man Anthony Carter.
“Now that police have extra powers and are joined on the ground by 800 members of the Australian Defence Force, we are extremely concerned about the potential for Aboriginal people to again be targeted and intimidated.
ALS urged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW and the ACT to contact them for help with infringement notices: “The ALS is urging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW and the ACT to contact them for help with infringement notices. If you’ve received a fine, we want to know. Our offices are currently closed to the public, but we have extra people on the phones. Call us – we can help.”
The ALS also called on the state government to provide clearer public communication on COVID-19 rules and support Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to protect their clients.
“The vast majority of people want to do the right thing. We’ve seen how determined Aboriginal communities are to protect one another – they set the bar for locking down last year. The Close the Gap Report noted the rate of COVID-19 infection for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was six times lower than the rest of Australia,” Mr Carter outlined.
“We really want to keep it that way. It’s on the NSW Government to ensure masks, rapid testing, vaccines and other resources are available to towns including Walgett, Dubbo, Brewarrina and Bourke, where local organisations are doing their best to curb the regional outbreak.
“We also need clear, accessible information made available for our communities on the COVID rules, which are constantly changing.”