Australian state scraps tens of thousands of Covid fines

Two police officers on horses on Bondi Beach

More than 33,000 Covid fines will be withdrawn or refunded in Australia’s most populous state after a court deemed them invalid.

An Australian legal advocacy group challenged the pandemic-era fines on the basis they were “too vague”.

The “fail to comply” fines were issued for a range of alleged offences – from carpooling to attending a public gathering. They ranged from $1,000 to $3,000.

Ultimately, government lawyers conceded the fines did not meet legal requirements in the New South Wales Supreme Court. Shortly after the decision was handed down, the Commissioner of Fines Administration withdrew 31,121 of the 62,138 fines.

In a statement, Revenue NSW said it prioritised the health and safety of residents during the pandemic.

However, while it said it would withdraw the “fail to comply” fines, it added the decision “does not mean the offences were not committed”.

Redfern Legal Centre (RLC), which brought the challenge to the Supreme Court, hailed Tuesday’s decision as a “momentous win” in a tweet.

Before the ruling, centre solicitor Samantha Lee said “this case is about more than just two people’s fines”.

“It is about the need to properly adhere to the rule of law, even during a pandemic.”

The RLC has also alleged fines were disproportionately issued to people living in poorer areas, saying statistics “show the majority of Covid-19 fines were issued to those residing in low-socioeconomic areas and areas with a large proportion of First Nations populations”.

An independent review into Australia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic found women, children and people with disabilities – among others – “bore the brunt”.

It also found Australians in the lowest 20% of socioeconomic status were three times more like to die of Covid-19 than those in the top 20%.

Australian states and territories imposed strict restrictions during the pandemic, which included limits on travel and movement outside the home and bans on travelling interstate.

The federal government also banned international travel for almost two years in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. New South Wales is currently experiencing its third Covid-19 Omicron wave with the state recording more than 31,000 cases this week.

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