Welcome to this fortnight’s roundup.
First, in regards to the Victorian Government’s actions in North Melbourne and Flemington, COVIDpolicing strongly condemns the discriminatory imprisonment of working and poor people, and of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities of colour. See our joint statement of concern and solidarity.
In the past two weeks, we have had one incident report. With new Victorian restrictions introduced on 2 July, and a 6-week lockdown announced starting today, we expect to receive more in the coming days and weeks. Given the severity of the new restrictions, we start with the report made during the previous restrictions and then move on to our discussion of Victoria, Australia, and international policing of COVID.
SUMMARY OF COVIDPOLICING REPORTS
a person was driving back to Melbourne after inspecting two rural properties by appointment with a real estate agent. They were pulled over and questioned by police on their knowledge of the restrictions in place at the time, and their reason for being so far from home. The driver provided police with all answers and got the real estate agent on the phone to confirm their appointment. The police did not accept this reason and issued the driver with a fine for breaching conditions.
On Thursday 2 July, new lockdown rules came into effect in Victoria. As has been largely covered, the rules required people in certain suburbs to go into ‘full’ lockdown. Two days later, nine public housing towers were placed in ‘hard lockdown’ for at least five days.
The three thousand people in the towers are prevented from leaving their homes by the police. At least 500 officers are on duty at any time, and they are meant to be posted to every floor of the tower – although some residents are reporting on social media that they have seen no officers on their floor.
Many residents inside are from communities that have experienced ongoing overpolicing and racial targeting and profiling by police.
Photos shared on social media also show that police do not appear to be wearing personal protective equipment or observing physical distancing rules:
6 July 2020:
Premier Daniel Andrews claimed the ‘hard lockdown’ is designed to protect the ‘most vulnerable’ communities. However those inside the towers report feeling ambushed, not being given any warning or opportunity to prepare for five days of enforced isolation.
The detainment of public housing residents was a snap decision, announced as part of an increasingly punitive ‘law and order’ response to the pandemic. The Government was slow to provide food packages to residents, and many residents have reported that these are inadequate: Muslim people have received pork products, and residents are receiving food that is expired:
Food items are mismatched: wheetbix with no milk, jam with no bread.
Nor had the Government supplied medical, sanitary equipment and other necessities, and is relying on the public to articulate these needs before providing them retrospectively.
7 July 2020:
Because of police intimidation, many residents are communicating directly with community organisations, who are providing people with food they can actually eat. Even these deliveries are fraught:
In a media release published, Voices from the Blocks provides a similar account of police and Authorised Officer actions, and makes a series of demands. The primary one being the removal of the heavy police presence.
COVIDpolicing strongly condemns the racist imprisonment of working and poor people, and of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities of colour. We join with other community and legal organisations in condemning these actions.
Statements condemning the policing have also been published by community organisations. We strongly agree with statements released by:
- Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre
- Inner Melbourne Community Legal
- Police Accountability Project
- RISE: Refugee, Survivors and eX-detainees
Outside the towers, 36 suburbs are in lockdown. These suburbs are also subject to a level of policing that is extraordinary in Victoria. Over 1,000 police will patrol locked-down suburbs. Drones will be used for surveillance, and elite police will be deployed, despite their training being in violent crowd control techniques. For the first time in Victoria, automatic number plate recognition will be used as a surveillance tool to track people’s movement, rather than for traffic offences.
Chief Commissioner of Police Shane Patton has stated that enforcement of the rules will be indiscriminate: ‘You would have to have been on Mars not to understand that the Chief Health Officer’s restrictions apply in these 36 suburbs and that you’re expected to adhere to them.’ On that basis, the Commissioner stated that people who breach the rules are the ‘selfish few.’
There is no evidence that punitive policing and heavy use of fines has had any positive impact on public health outcomes. No reviews or inquiries have determined that the policing response to COVID has done more good than harm. In the absence of evidence that it works, the emphasis by the Government on policing is ideological.
The harms of policing are well established. We know from public data that COVID fines disproportionately affect those who can least afford them. In the absence of accurate information, people are unaware of the rules and this can impact health and wellbeing—community legal centres have had reports of single mums staying locked down indoors for weeks, unaware that they could take children out to exercise or go shopping.
Curfew policing also generates fear and confusion—especially in the absence of proper community education and outreach and support. The Government stated that cases have spread during ‘family gatherings’ in Melbourne suburbs. These suburbs, with the exception of Brunswick West, are multicultural and working class. Experts have responded, saying that ‘family gatherings’ is coded language that refers to migrant families living in large households. Experts say that by removing cultural context from the COVID response, the Government is not adequately engaging multicultural communities—they are not receiving enough information in their language and in culturally appropriate forms. Anecdotally, health workers are reporting that multicultural communities do want to obey COVID rules, but they are not receiving enough information.
The changes came from the Chief Medical Officer’s advice to lockdown regions geographically so that community transmission within affected areas is limited. What this meant practically was that Victoria was segregated according to institutional racial and class divides: the suburbs affected most by lockdown were working class neighbourhoods and multicultural ones. This has changed today, 7 July, with the announcement of 6 weeks of lockdown across all of Melbourne.
Widespread testing is now available across the state, particularly in Melbourne. For the suburbs in lockdown, door-to-door health department staff are providing information and testing to residents. While the government has claimed that 10,000 people refused testing, residents have reported that health department staff did not appear competent to administer tests, and were not wearing personal protective equipment. Early in the testing, people also reported that information was not available in multiple languages.
IN THE NEWS
National: daily cases have started to trend up in recent weeks, with total active cases reaching 8,586.
Victoria: another lockdown announced, effective across all of Metro Melbourne.
NSW: A ‘bush doof’ attended by 1,000 people in Byron Bay was met with disappointment from police. A party of 200 was also broken up by police. The organisers of neither were fined, highlighting a difference in the police response to the Black Lives Matter protest, which was taken to the Supreme Court and in which organisers were fined.
The army has been sent to the NSW-Victoria border. The border closure has been criticised for permit processes for people who need to cross the border for work and to access health services.
Western Australia: the state is pushing for cap on international flights into the state, amidst new cases that have been traced to overseas arrivals. Western Australia is asking the Federal Government to introduce legislation that will force travellers to pay for their own 14 day quarantine. The state will consider easing restrictions from Phase 4 to Phase 3 next week. Phase 4 allows public gatherings of any kind, so long as a 2 square metre rule is observed.
Queensland: the state recorded its first case in 11 days, which has been traced to international travel. The case followed a nine-day window with no cases.
South Australia: Daily cases are at 0 in South Australia, with over 400 people infected in the state. South Australia is looking into lifting border restrictions with NSW and ACT. Border restrictions were set to be lifted on 20 July, but this is being reconsidered while the Victorian situation is monitored. Travel between Victoria is restricted to essential workers. And travel between all other states is unrestricted.
Tasmania: the state plans to open borders on 24 July, subject to developments around the country. Currently all non-essential travellers must quarantine for 14 days at their residence, with some exceptions. A maximum of 250 people are allowed in undivided indoor spaces, and the maximum density is 2 square meters.
ACT: Canberra will close its border to Victoria. Restrictions will continue to ease, with the territory moving into stage 3 on Friday 3 July.
Northern Territory: the NT has declared ‘all of Melbourne’ a COVID hotspot. All arrivals from Melbourne will go into supervised quarantine when NT borders open on 17 July.
INTERNATIONAL COVID POLICING NEWS
United States: protests continue around the country. Rioting appears to have ceased across the country. In Oregon, a police officer gave a white power symbol to a Proud Boy attending to protest. The incident raises concerns about institutional racism in the police.
UK: pubs have opened across the United Kingdom. Police have warned that drunkenness and physical distancing ‘does not mix’. The Police Federation Chairman stated that enforcement was not possible, with so many people attending pubs on Saturday, and that community education was required.
Uganda: a man praying at Makerere University past curfew died after being beaten, allegedly by police. Police deny involvement. Security forces have killed at least 6 people while enforcing COVID guidelines.
Brazil: mask measures were reduced in Brazil. Brazil has the second highest number of cases in the world.
Covidpolicing.org.au is a collaborative project is run by legal and human rights advocacy organisations, backed up by a network of policing academics around Australia.
Previous weekly round-ups can be found here.
These weekly round-ups are summaries only and do not necessarily represent the views of all project partners in entirety.
We thank all people who have taken the time to make a report and to all those who have contributed, supported, shared or promoted this project.
For more information about the project please see: https://covidpolicing.org.au/about/
If you would like to contact any of the partners in this project, you can reach us by e-mail at [email protected]