Yesterday Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced all people arriving in Australia would be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
“Up until now, that has been a voluntary arrangement. There has been no potential sanction that might apply against a person for not following that requirement,” Mr Morrison said.
“Once state authorities are in a position to give that its legal enforcement, then that will be a change.
“If your mate has been to Bali and they come back and they turn up to work, and they are sitting next to you, they will be committing an offence.
“It’s a matter for state authorities as to what penalties they’ll place on that.”
Mr Morrison indicated the states and territories were moving to legislate specific penalties. But in practice, each of them already has the ability to punish people for failing to comply with public health orders.
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For example, under New South Wales’ Public Health Act, failing to comply with a public health order carries a penalty of up to $5500. That rises to $11,000, and six months in prison, if the person in question provides “false or misleading” information in “purported compliance” with an order.
So, if someone were to sign a customs form committing to self-isolate, and then fail to do so, they could face jail time.
“If they’re in breach of public health provisions, because we’ve enacted emergency powers in our Public Health Act, those individuals, action can be taken against them,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said this morning.
“We don’t want it to come to that. This is a health issue, primarily. It shouldn’t be a law and order issue. We really want people to respect the rules we’ve put in place. It’s there to keep people safe and reduce death.”
Under Queensland’s Public Health Act, the maximum penalty is $13,345.
“There are penalties for not complying with the notification, and that is around $13,000,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said yesterday.
“We have random police checks to make sure people are compliant with that notice.
“I know these may seem tough measure, but we have your families’ interests at heart and I really need everyone to comply with this.”
Victoria’s Public Health and Wellbeing Act empowers the government to fine people up to $19,826 for defying a direction during a state of emergency.
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Under South Australia’s Public Health Act, failure to comply with an order or direction carries a maximum penalty of $25,000.
And Western Australia has particularly heavy penalties under its Public Health Act.
Engaging in conduct that is “likely to cause a serious public health risk” can lead to a fine of $50,000. Failing to comply with a public health order also carries a $50,000 fine, or the alternative option of up to a full year in prison.
The wrinkle here, as Mr Morrison and Ms Berejiklian have both acknowledged, is that state police forces do not have the capacity to strictly monitor self-isolation orders.
“This provides the backstop of a legal enforcement, but the idea that there’d be significant resources dedicated to that task would not be practical,” the Prime Minister said yesterday.
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“There are penalties in place for people who don’t respect what we’ve done,” said Ms Berejiklian this morning.
“We really need people to step up as well and to follow instructions. Because there’s no chance we’re going to be able to monitor every single person that gets off a plane for the next two weeks. It’s not going to be possible.
“What we do want is to make sure we do have those provisions in place, so that if we do know cases – and people should report these cases, if people are turning up to work when they shouldn’t; if they’re engaging in community and social life when they shouldn’t, well let us know. But I’m hoping most people will step up and do the right thing.”
The Premier repeatedly urged Australians to alert the authorities if they knew of someone violating a self-isolation instruction.
“If you’re in a workplace and you know someone is coming to work who has recently been overseas, let us know,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“You can let the relevant authorities know, and the police can turn up and force that person to stay home.”
She also stressed that event organisers would face substantial penalties for continuing to hold events with more than 500 people.
“If anybody doesn’t follow those instructions, there’s a hefty fine and also potential jail time,” she said.