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Policing and emergency powers in the COVID-19 recovery

The extraordinary powers enabled by the declaration of a state of emergency in Victoria and their enforcement by Victoria Police has been an area of intense scrutiny in recent months. Ensuring that policing upholds the rights of Victorians protected by the Charter will be essential in the period ahead.

Police offers on duty

Victoria Police officers have played an important role in enforcing the Chief Health Officer’s directions under the state of emergency in Victoria, first declared on 16 March. Importantly, the Charter has continued to operate during this period, requiring Victoria Police, as a public authority, to continue to fulfil its obligations to consider human rights in its decision-making and act compatibly with human rights. This includes, for example, when officers are determining whether to stop and question someone, or deciding to exercise discretion when issuing a warning or a fine.

In the first six months of the pandemic, we have been concerned about the risk that particular multicultural or multifaith groups, or other groups with particular vulnerabilities, may be disproportionately affected by policing during this period. There’s evidence that the distribution of fines across local government areas is not necessarily evenly spread, and that some areas that are home to the most disadvantaged communities have received proportionally more fines than wealthier areas.

We’re receiving reports of over-policing and disproportionate issuing of fines towards Aboriginal people and people experiencing homelessness. We’ve also heard concerns about the adequacy and efficiency of the review process for people who wish to contest a fine they’ve received.

More data is required to determine whether current practices have led to a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups and how this can be mitigated.

Foundations for recovery

  • Collect and share data necessary to understand whether fines are being issued disproportionately against people from particular racial backgrounds or in situations of vulnerability such as homelessness.
  • Reset the approach to issuing and reviewing fines, ensuring discretion and oversight mechanisms are key elements.

Centring human rights in the COVID-19 recovery


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Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries

1300 891 848

Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

1300 152 494

NRS Voice Relay
1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153

Media enquiries
0447 526 642

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledges that we work on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We also work remotely and serve communities on the lands of other Traditional Custodians.

We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.