By ALEC SMART
Drones, helicopters and number plate recognition technology were employed across NSW to catch those attempting to go on holiday for the Easter long weekend, to prevent them breaching social distancing laws and spreading Covid-19.
NSW’s coronavirus death toll has reached 23 with close to 3,000 confirmed cases of infection.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison effectively cancelled Easter by advising Australians that failure to stay at home “would completely undo everything we have achieved so far together and potentially worse.”
Short-term rentals such as motels and Air BnBs could only be booked for work, access to education or caring for sick people in isolation, but not for holidaying. Christian churches were also closed as traditional Easter religious services were conducted on TV and over the internet to comply with the lockdown.
No show, no go
Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, a primary attraction over the annual Easter long weekend that generates millions of dollars – much of which would benefit rural communities devastated by the recent bushfires – was also cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Royal Agricultural Society president Robert Ryan said “This is the first time the Sydney Royal Easter Show has been cancelled because of a public health emergency since the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919.”
In the run-up to Easter, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller warned police would be on alert, patrolling roads and caravan parks to deter holidaymakers from travelling and risking spread of Covid-19. “We will be using all of our powers and all of our technology to try and identify those people who shouldn’t be in NSW,” he said.
“We will be going through caravan parks early, issuing warnings to people that may think they can get around these laws,” Fuller said on 7 April. “People will be given one opportunity to pack up, go back to your home state and go back home. Otherwise, we will, unfortunately, have to issue tickets.”
Drivers unable to provide a valid reason for being on the road were turned back by police. NSW drivers were warned they could be sentenced to up to six months in prison, or be forced to pay $11,000 plus $5,500 per day if they ignored the rules.
The majority of those targeted weren’t people who “shouldn’t be in NSW” but Sydney residents seeking a weekend break, many of whom own holiday homes along the north and south coast.
A NSW Govt Minister also fell afoul of the regulations, which ultimately cost him his job.
On 10 April, the NSW Minister for Public Service, Employee Relations, Aboriginal Affairs and the Arts, Don Harwin, submitted his resignation after he was photographed at his holiday home in Pearl Beach, at Broken Bay, south of Gosford.
A photographer from Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph newspaper was tipped-off by persons unknown that Harwin was at his Pearl Beach second home. He took candid photos of Harwin, including a trip to a local shopping centre and entertaining a male friend – Harwin is gay.
The former Special Minister for State discovered he wasn’t so special after all when police visited and he was fined $1000 for breaching the Covid-19 Public Health Order. A NSW Police statement justified the penalty as “in contravention of a current ministerial direction under the Public Health Act.”
Although Harwin travelled to Pearl Beach prior to the state-wide clampdown, it is alleged he went clothes shopping and twice drove back to his Sydney home in Elizabeth Bay during his three-week break. This caused embarrassment to the NSW Govt amidst suggestions of favouritism that MPs were flouting rules others were rigidly expected to follow.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian accepted Harwin’s actions created a “horrible” public perception. Claiming she was “deeply disappointed,” she declared: “I regret and apologise to everybody that somebody from my team took this action,” she said. “A lot of us are going through a lot of pain to stick to the rules, and for people in positions of power, it’s all about perception.”
“I’m bloody disappointed!” Deputy Premier John Barilaro added. “Politicians aren’t exempt from this rule and what Don Harwin has done over the last couple of weeks is unacceptable… In the public eye, it looks like politicians believe they’re above the rules and above the law and we’re not.”
Although Harwin fell on his sword and left office gracefully, there is a hint in his resignation statement that he notified authorities he was relocating to his holiday home prior to the restrictions on movement, which implies he was betrayed. “I sought to act in accordance with public health orders and I sought advice that my living arrangements complied with those orders…” he said.
In response, Ms Berejiklian said in a statement: “Whilst minister Harwin has served the people of NSW well, and he continues to assure me that he did not break the rules, the orders in place apply equally to everybody. Accordingly, minister Harwin has appropriately resigned from cabinet.”
So, who tipped off the Daily Telegraph Harwin was in Pearl Beach and why did they think it so important that they launched a stakeout to photograph his movements? Given the Telegraph’s usual wholesome support for the Liberal Party, it set off a chain of events that would inevitably lead to the dismissal or resignation of the high-ranking Liberal minister.
For a clue, Harwin’s dismissal from the NSW Liberal Party may have been on the cards for some time. In October 2016 the now-infamous tape recording surfaced in USA where President Donald Trump – then a candidate – was heard saying he enjoyed “grabbing women by the pussy,” because his fame and fortune afforded him such opportunities.
“I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it.,” he bragged. “You can do anything. … Grab them by the pussy!”
In Australia, a motion was immediately tabled by Greens Legislative Councillor Jeremy Buckingham MP to condemn the Republican nominee’s words. Describing Trump’s action as “sexual assault,” the motion said that the NSW Parliament condemned the “misogynistic, hateful comments made by the Republican candidate for President of the United States of America, Mr Donald Trump, about women and minorities.”
The statement continued with the astonishing summary that NSW Parliament “agrees with those who have described Mr Trump as ‘a revolting slug’ unfit for public office.”
The New South Wales Legislative Council, often referred to as the ‘Upper House’, is one of the two chambers of the NSW State Parliament. Unlike the Legislative Assembly, aka the ‘Lower House’, the Legislative Council has 42 members elected by proportional representation, who serve eight-year terms. Motions presented in the Upper House usually pass unanimously unless an objection is raised.
On this occasion, Harwin, then President of the NSW Upper House, looked into whether the term “revolting slug” amounted to un-parliamentary language. He decided it was acceptable and allowed it to remain. The motion was passed without dissent. “It is great that all sides of Australian politics, from conservatives to Liberals to Greens, agree that Donald Trump is a revolting slug and completely unfit for public office,” Mr Buckingham said after the vote was passed.
But Harwin was marked as a Trump hater and perhaps that led to his sudden and ignominious fall from grace.
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch (Daily Telegraph newspaper owner) and the Australian and NSW branches of the Liberal Party are trying to maintain a close relationship with President Donald Trump, despite his increasing incompetence in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
One wonders how a senior minister like Harwin remained in power for so long when he risked jeopardising that toxic relationship. If you’re a high-ranking politician and you call President Trump a ‘revolting slug’, is it reasonable to assume you’ll get your come-uppance at the hands of his most ardent supporters?