New South Wales Government Withdraws Over 33,000 COVID-19 Fines

New South Wales Government Withdraws Over 33,000 COVID-19 Fines
The police are seen during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Sydney, Australia, on Dec. 31, 2021. (Wendell Teodoro/Getty Images)
Alfred Bui
11/29/2022
Updated:
11/29/2022

The New South Wales (NSW) government is returning millions of dollars in fines to thousands of residents breaching COVID-19 restrictions introduced during the Australian state’s lockdown periods.

On Nov. 29, Revenue NSW announced that it would revoke 33,121 fines, which is more than half of the total number of COVID-19-related fines issued (62,138), following a Supreme Court’s landmark decision that invalidated the penalties imposed on three local residents.
The announcement came shortly following a Supreme Court case in which a judge ruled that two fines issued during the state’s public health lockdowns in 2021 were invalid because they did not include a sufficiently detailed description of the offences.

The judge then ordered the state government to give refunds to the plaintiffs.

A small group of protesters gather outside the NSW Supreme Court during a pre-hearing media conference on cases related to COVID-19 fines in Sydney, Australia, on Sept. 1, 2022. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
A small group of protesters gather outside the NSW Supreme Court during a pre-hearing media conference on cases related to COVID-19 fines in Sydney, Australia, on Sept. 1, 2022. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

Following the court’s decision, Revenue NSW Fines Commissioner Scott Johnson said the fines would be withdrawn.

“I am withdrawing all the fines related to those particular offences … and get a refund back to those people as quickly as possible,” he told reporters.

However, Revenue NSW noted the fines’ withdrawal did not dismiss the fact that people failed to comply with the noticed direction concerning section 7/8/9–COVID-19 during the pandemic.

The agency also said the remaining 29,017 COVID-19 fines were not affected by the supreme court’s decision and would still be required to be paid if not already resolved.

“Where fines are withdrawn, all sanctions, including driver licence restrictions or garnishee order activity, will be stopped,” Revenue NSW said in a statement.
“Where a fine has been withdrawn, and a customer has made a payment–either in part or in full–Revenue NSW will make contact to arrange a refund or credit the payment towards other outstanding debts.”

What the Lawsuit Is About?

The Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) brought the lawsuit on behalf of Brenden Beame, Teal Els and Rohan Pank, who were fined between $1,000 (US$669) and $3,000 for breaching COVID-19 rules.
In the case of Pank, he was approached by police while sitting in a Sydney park with his girlfriend during the state’s lockdown in August 2021, Daily Mail reported.

The police officers then told him he had violated a public health order by not actively exercising at the park and issued him with a $1,000 fine.

“It was a warm day. Lots of people were there,” Pank said. “We knew that sitting in parks, outdoor recreation, was one of the few things that were allowed.”

“A group of police officers came over and fined us for supposedly not currently exercising.”

NSW Police assemble in Hyde Park for a morning briefing in Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 21, 2021. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
NSW Police assemble in Hyde Park for a morning briefing in Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 21, 2021. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

After his review application for the fine was rejected twice by Revenue NSW, Pank sought legal assistance from RLC, bringing his case to the supreme court and two others who had been fined for COVID breaches.

Following the court’s decision, RLC acting principal solicitor Samantha Lee said justice had been granted to the plaintiffs.

“Today is an extraordinary day for the people of New South Wales,” she said.

“Thank goodness for pro bono barristers and for clients who have come forward and taken the risk.”

Speaking to Nine Network, she said the remaining over 29,000 fines could potentially be withdrawn but noted that this must wait until the court’s final judgment came out in 2023.

In addition, she said people in other states could follow suit and take legal action against their governments over COVID-19-related fines.

“It’s going to be a long road to get it to court. If those fines in other states were equally as vague, then a court action could be taken,” she said.

Legal Community’s Response

Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service, welcomed the supreme court’s decision and called for the cancellation of the remaining COVID-19 fines.
“The government has dragged people through the courts only to concede that some fines may never have been valid in the first place,” Warner said.

“How many more people does it plan to put through this ordeal before accepting that all COVID fines must be cancelled?”

She added that the Aboriginal community was unfairly targeted by the fines and still suffered the consequences, although the pandemic had passed.

The court’s decision was also well-received by the Law Society of NSW as it called on the Revenue NSW to review the remaining 29,000 fines, especially those imposed on children.

The organisation also noted that many of the state’s top locations for COVID-19-related fines had high concentrations of Aboriginal people with the highest level of social disadvantage.

Alfred Bui is an Australian reporter based in Melbourne and focuses on local and business news. He is a former small business owner and has two master’s degrees in business and business law. Contact him at [email protected].