Police patrolling Bondi Beach to enforce compliance with the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

Police patrolling Bondi Beach to enforce compliance with the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.Credit:Steven Siewert

Operation Stay at Home marked a dramatic ramp-up in the police response,with NSW Police issuing more than double the number of fines in three and a half weeks as the entire 17 months of the pandemic before that.

Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said when announcing the operation it would take seven to 14 days to see the results,and hewouldn’t act against police officers for wrongly issuing fines.

Since then,COVID-19 daily case numbers have continued to rise,but the transmission rate is stable or slowing,which epidemiologists say is mainly because of vaccination. Community law advocates say many fines were wrongly issued and should be revoked.

Security at Murray Rose Pool on Saturday.

Security at Murray Rose Pool on Saturday.Credit:Anna Kucera

Commissioner Fuller toldThe Sun-Heraldthe enforcement blitz had helped stem the pandemic.

“Since that operation commenced there has been no expansion in the number of metropolitan LGAs of concern,” Commissioner Fuller said.

“The compliance operation has been a major driver in setting us on a path out of lockdown and it’s clear that without driving the restriction of movement,thousands more people would have become positive cases.”


Under Operation Stay at Home,the value of the on-the-spot penalties increased from a maximum of $1000 to a maximum of $5000.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the police were essential to defeating COVID-19 as part of a whole-of-government approach and also played a role as community helpers looking after the welfare of individuals who are isolating at home,even delivering food packages in some parts of the state.

“At other times,when there is deliberate and persistent non-compliance the police have a job to do,which is to enforce the health orders,” Mr Hazzard said.

“My assessment is that the police have been absolutely invaluable and any criticism directed to them in the broadest sense is most likely to have come from those who have not seen the on-the-ground work done by them.”


Four days after the launch of Operation Stay at Home,the government introduced additional policing measures,including a curfew in the local government areas of concern,an outdoor mask mandate,further restrictions on retail including making Bunnings click n collect only,exercise limits in the LGAs of concern,and the ability for police to lock down apartment buildings without waiting for NSW Health.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said last week the curfew in south-west Sydney did not work and was only done because of media pressure. The extra measures came after days of persistent questions at the daily press conferences about why NSW did not adopt stricter measures in place in Victoria,and social media derision calling it a “lockdown lite” or “mockdown”.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian declined to comment on the effectiveness of the police action but a NSW government spokesperson said the additional compliance measures were a request from NSW Police and the curfew was a request from NSW Health and Police.

A police road block on Enmore Road checking road users’ identification and address.

A police road block on Enmore Road checking road users’ identification and address.Credit:Brook Mitchell

Professor Catherine Bennett at Deakin University said it was impossible to gauge the effect of the police effort on the pandemic because the bigger factor was the increasing pace of the vaccination program. NSW Health data shows total vaccination doses increased from 5.1 million on August 16 to 7.9 million on Friday.

However,Professor Bennett said the pandemic in NSW was definitely nearing a plateau. The effective reproductive (R) rate was 1.2 on August 16,meaning each person who became infected with COVID-19 went on to infect 1.2 other people. The R rate was calculated based on a rolling three-day average of new cases and a four-day incubation period.

On Saturday the R rate was still 1.2,though it fell to 1 or 0.9 several times in the past week. Cases start to decline when the R rate drops below 1.

NSW Police patrol Bondi Beach keeping the COVID-19 restrictions in place.

NSW Police patrol Bondi Beach keeping the COVID-19 restrictions in place.Credit:Steven Siewert

Professor Bennett said lockdown restrictions rely heavily on voluntary compliance and that could be undermined by “rules on top of rules”,such as a curfew that made it illegal to leave the house to attend an already-illegal nocturnal gathering.

“Some people are going to get the message and some people aren’t,some people are living in fear already and it just stops them going out at all and that’s unhealthy and unnecessary to be that fearful,particularly between outbreaks,” she said. “For other people … it makes them feel oppressed and less likely to comply with any part of lockdown.”

Professor Peter Collignon at Australian National University said restrictions and the policing of them “ought to be proportionate to their public health risks from different activities”.

When asked whether the fines had public health value,he said:“If the fines were for sitting on a park bench,then I would think no,but if the fines were because you were with 10 other people inside having a party,then yes.”

NSW Police declined to provide a breakdown of what the fines were for,directingThe Sun-Heraldto file a freedom of information request.

Millions owed in pandemic fines

  • From the beginning of the pandemic to June 24,there were 3,132 penalty notices issued with a face value of $4.3 million. Of that,$1.9 million has been paid,$42,800 is not yet due,and $2.1 million is overdue.
  • From June 25 to September 6,there were 28,726 penalty notices issued with a face value of $24.3 million. Of that,$1.6 million has been paid,$21.3 million is not yet due,and $1.3 million is overdue.
  • Source:Revenue NSW

Redfern Legal Centre,which runs a free COVID-19 fines advice centre,said police were fining people who were clearly not breaking the law.


The public health order allows people outside the 12 areas of concern to undertake “recreation” alone or with one other person or with members of the same household.

Samantha Lee,police accountability solicitor Redfern Legal Centre,said she knew of several cases where the police were fining people for sitting in a park,away from others,and not in an area of concern.

“We are calling on the NSW Government to revoke all COVID-19 fines that have been issued incorrectly by NSW Police to those undertaking lawful recreation,” Ms Lee said.

A Revenue NSW spokesperson said the recovery rate for an overdue COVID-19 fine was 31 per cent for the 2019-2020 financial year,compared with 46 per cent for other debt. For the 2020-2021 financial year,it was 28 per cent compared with 30 per cent.

“As debt is recovered over time these rates will increase,” the spokesperson said.

“Given that fines for breaching public health orders are a high-value fine,this is seen as a relatively good result that will improve over time.”

NSW Minister for Finance and Small Business Damien Tudehope said:“If you’ve received a fine because you’ve broken the law and breached the public health order,we expect you to pay that fine. And if you don’t,we will be contacting you.”

Mr Tudehope said there were options to have a fine reviewed when people believe they have been incorrectly issued.

A Revenue NSW spokesperson said when a penalty notice is issued,the customer has 28 days to pay the full amount or take another form of action,including setting up a payment plan.

A Revenue NSW spokesperson said overdue fines are issued when a customer has not paid after a reminder notice and recovery actions have included suspension of driver licences,cancellations of vehicle registration and deducting money from wages or bank accounts.

As of August 23,there have been 117 people who challenged their fines in court but Revenue NSW does not track the outcome.

Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research predating Operation Stay at Home show in March 2021 the courts had upheld 45 out of 56 COVID-19 fines challenged in court.

Stay across the most crucial developments related to the pandemic with the Coronavirus Update.Sign up to receive the weekly newsletter.

Most Viewed in Politics