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Melbourne’s “ring of steel” is tightening, with city residents now facing fines of nearly $5,000 for attempting to escape to regional Victoria.
The state’s rural areas will progress to the “third step” in the recovery roadmap, opening up at a much faster rate than metropolitan Melbourne.
As a result, Victorian authorities have introduced a new offence – in line with its fines-enforced lockdown – prohibiting people from “leaving a restricted area”, as stipulated in the declared state of disaster.
This infringement will carry a heavy fine of $4,957, an extraordinary hike from the already steep $1,652 slapped on Victorians breaching current lockdown rules.
Melburnians can still leave the city, but only for permitted reasons, such as providing or receiving care, medical needs and visiting an intimate partner. Those leaving the area for work require a valid work permit signed by their employer.
Deputy police commissioner of regional operations, Rick Nugent, said he hoped the increased fine would act as a serious deterrent.
“If it’s two people, if it’s mum and dad, they will both get a fine. That’s nearly $10,000,” he said.
The Victorian government has relied on police enforcement and the threat of fines to implement its lockdown, with more than 20,000 fines issued in the second wave as of late August.
Victoria has been criticised by some human rights groups for the scale of compliance actions that have accompanied public health restrictions during the state’s second wave.
Analysis by Guardian Australia has also suggested areas with large migrant populations and social housing have been among the most heavily enforced.
Concerns with police behaviour in enforcing the lockdown have also brought the measures into question, with recent allegations of heavy-handed tactics being used, including an alleged “violent assault” of an Indigenous man who was left with a broken arm after police spear-tackled him off his bike as he rode to work.
The latest steep penalty comes as Victoria experiences the sharpest pain of Australia’s pandemic-induced recession, with Deloitte warning this week the “extended lockdown restrictions are likely to result in higher unemployment figures than elsewhere”.
Nevertheless, police say they will be manning checkpoints 24 hours a day and increasing the number of vehicles they stop.
“Certainly we will be checking every vehicle that is towing a caravan, a camper trailer or other trailer, towing a boat or a jet ski, or has a surfboard, a fishing rod or swags. They will all be checked,” Nugent said.
Local police forces will also be enlisted to check IDs and addresses of people at popular tourism spots like campgrounds, Nugent added.
“You might get through a checkpoint, you find some back road and manage to sneak through at two in the morning. But it’s when you get out there you might be caught,” he said.
There are now seven permanent checkpoints across Melbourne’s main arterials. Nugent announced on Wednesday that a new semipermanent checkpoint would be established on the Mornington Peninsula.
Although classified as part of metropolitan Melbourne and facing the same strict lockdowns, the peninsula is a popular holiday destination with beachside towns such as Portsea and Sorrento.
Nugent also warned Victorians they may face delays at checkpoints, with the 15-minute wait target potentially no longer possible.
“Up until now we have tried to strike that balance, probably around a 15-minute delay at most, and the moment there is a 15-minute delay we feed more vehicles through … I visited a checkpoint where there was a two-hour delay, that’s far too long,” he said.
“Now, the model will stay the same, the number of police will stay the same but what it will mean, sadly, is a longer wait time.”
W24News – ‘Ring of steel’: Melbourne residents face $5,000 fines for trying to flee to regional Victoria