Six months in jail, $11,000 fine for leaving home without a ‘reasonable excuse’
Anyone in NSW who leaves their house without a “reasonable excuse” could spend up to six months in prison and face an $11,000 fine under an emergency ministerial directive gazetted overnight.
The public health order, which enacts Sunday’s recommendations of the national cabinet, gives police sweeping power to enforce the latest round of restrictions designed to limit the spread of coronavirus in Australia.
The NSW Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement Order 2020) makes it unlawful to leave your place of residence except “to obtain food or other goods and services”, work and education that cannot be done from home, exercise, medical or caring reasons, and a limited number of other reasons.
It also bans gatherings of more than two people in public places, unless those people are members of the same household, or the gatherings are “essential for work or education”. Unlike the order in Victoria, the NSW order does not appear to explicitly ban gatherings in people’s residences.
Under the Public Health Act, individuals can be fined up to $11,000 or sent to prison for six months – or both – for breaching these ministerial directives. They can also be fined another $5500 for each day the offence continues.
Corporations that fail to comply are liable for a $55,000 initial fine and $27,500 for each day the offence continues.
A total of 16 “excuses” for leaving the home are contained in Schedule 1 of the order, including to attend weddings and funerals, which are limited to five and 10 people respectively. Other “excuses” include moving house, donating blood, undertaking legal obligations and accessing public services such as Centrelink and domestic violence services.
Furthermore, contact between parents and children or siblings who do not live together will also be regarded as a reasonable excuse. Priests and other ministers will still be allowed to go to their place of worship or provide pastoral care.
The order specifically states: “Taking a holiday in a regional area is not a reasonable excuse.” It was signed by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard late on Monday night.
The advice of national cabinet set down by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday must be enacted by each state or territory under their own laws. On Monday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian foreshadowed that her government would enforce the recommendations strongly.
” I also want to remind everybody that you shouldn’t be leaving home unless it is for work, for school, for essential things that you need to buy or else if you need to seek medical attention or exercise. They are the only reasons you should leave home,” she said.
“If you can work from home you should, if you can learn from home, you should. If you can do everything from home, you should. It is only in the exceptional circumstances that you should leave home.”
The harsh enforcement regime came as NSW recorded its 2000th confirmed coronavirus case, with 2032 cases in total as of 8pm on Monday. Although there are signs the rate of increase is slowing nationally, chief medical officers and other experts have warned against complacency, saying it is too early to tell for sure whether the tough social distancing measures are working.
In NSW, Police Commissioner Michael Fuller in his role as State Emergency Operations Controller, has now been placed in charge of the state’s overall COVID-19 response.
“This decision has been made to affect the level of authority vested in the NSWPF Commissioner and to increase public confidence in government support to the NSW Health operation,” he wrote in a memo to colleagues on Monday.
“NSW Health continues to control the health response to this emergency, however it has become clear there is a greater need for whole-of-government co-ordination in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, beyond consequence management alone.”