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Police officers who issued fines for breaches of COVID-19 restrictions have been instructed to hand out cautions for unpaid infringements rather than proceed with charges in a move that the Police Association warns could undermine future enforcement of public health orders.
More than 19,000 penalty notices were issued for breaches of chief health officer orders by October last year. The new direction would mean all but the most egregious offenders will avoid paying.
A man is issued a fine on August 9, in Melbourne.CREDIT:DARRIAN TRAYNOR
Premier Daniel Andrews insisted in October that rule-breakers must pay fines, warning there was "too much at stake" and "we will come after you if you don't".
But under the new advice, even people who received numerous coronavirus-related infringements will now be placed on a diversion order, which allows the accused to avoid a conviction and payment of the fine by giving an undertaking to the court.
Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt said the decision had inflamed tensions within the force after officers spent months enforcing the deeply unpopular COVID measures.
"Our members were asked to do a thankless job by the government and they did that," he said.
"If offenders form a view from this experience that penalties will be readily converted to cautions or diversions as a matter of course, then that sends a concerning message. We want to encourage wilful compliance and not encourage civil disobedience."
Police union secretary Wayne Gatt.CREDIT:JASON SOUTH
The decision is expected to infuriate the people who have already paid their fines, of which there were only 845 up until October last year.
Fairfield man Michael O'Reilly, who paid a $1652 fine for breaching public health guidelines, said the new policy served to highlight the government's inconsistent approach.
He said police were now more lenient after playing "hard ball'' at a protest he took part in outside Preston's Mantra Hotel last April. Dozens of other protesters were also fined.
According to the most recent data from Fines Victoria, more than 19,000 penalty notices were issued by October last year. Of those, 18 per cent had reached a "notice of final demand" stage, while a further 3455 had been registered with Fines Victoria for enforcement action.
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