Police in New South Wales and Victoria have used new laws restricting public movement to fine more than 50 people for reasons including eating a kebab on a bench and sitting in a car. With police in most states empowered to arrest or heavily fine people caught outside of their homes without a vaguely defined “reasonable excuse” in order to enforce social distancing safeguards and slow the spread of COVID-19, Guardian Australia reports the laws have sparked concerns from civil liberties activists. Police accountability solicitor from the Redfern Legal Centre in Sydney, Samantha Lee, is concerned the fines (up to $11,000 in NSW and up to $19,800 in Victoria) are not means tested, and warns the measures could disproportionately impact young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the jobless. Homelessness NSW chief executive Katherine McKernan expressed concern to The Sydney Morning Herald that a window-washer was fined under the measures, noting that it was a common source of income for homeless people, who are supposed to be exempt from the laws. NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller defended the crackdown, pledging police would “act on unnecessary gatherings in public including people sitting down to drink take-away coffees and sunbaking in parks”.
The national cabinet of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state leaders will this morning consider a range of measures to protect commercial landlords, as businesses struggle to pay rent during the economic slowdown. Victoria is expected to push for commercial landlords to be eligible for the $130 billion JobKeeper scheme, while NSW favours waiving or deferring land tax. Measures to assist residential landlords and tenants will also be discussed. In Queensland, The Courier Mail reports that renters are being kicked out of their homes by landlords despite the six-month moratorium on evictions. The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal said it is powerless to prevent evictions because the Palaszczuk government has not yet changed the law, with State Parliament not planning to resume until April 28.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has claimed childcare and schools remain safe for children to attend, as he unveiled a $1.6 billion plan to extend free childcare to all workers for a six month period. The plan, which seeks to address drops in occupancy at childcare centres estimated to be between 15 per cent and 50 per cent, will start from Sunday and include after-school care for children of parents who work from home.
Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power has called for Australia to emulate Portugal's decision to treat migrants, including asylum seekers, as permanent residents during the coronavirus crisis to ensure they have access to public services. With concerns that 1.1 million temporary workers in Australia could be ineligible for almost all welfare measures, Power told SBS News: “We all know that the virus doesn’t discriminate on the basis of people’s citizenship or permanent residency or the nature of their visa.”
Reported COVID-19 cases around the world have doubled in the space of a week, surpassing 1 million infections on Thursday. The worldwide death toll passed 50,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The United States has been hit with the highest number of infections, accounting for more than 20 per cent of cases globally. There are concerns that the virus is establishing footholds in countries across the African continent, from South Africa where 1300 people have been diagnosed through to Algeria, where 900 cases have been reported.