Legal observers deployed in the vicinity of Common Ground housing on Saturday 11 September witnessed a number of concerning uses of police power. Residents at Common Ground had asked those living within a 5km radius to show solidarity by wearing purple and exercising in a COVID-safe way near the residence at 1pm. Police issued a move on order to everyone in the vicinity by 1.30pm.
Treatment of people in the vicinity of Common Ground
A passerby was issued a direction to return home because he was filming police actions. Police used the fact that he was filming them as indicating that the passerby was not exercising.
Police compelled people in the vicinity of the apartment block to show their IDs, questioned people about their reasons for being in the area, and issued multiple directions for people to “move on”, “go home”, and “leave the area”. Police warned people that “failure to comply is an offence”.
Police asked an L-plater parked in front of Common Ground for their ID and took down the number plate of the vehicle. Police also inquired who their vehicle was registered to and said the reason for this question was to make sure it was a roadworthy vehicle. The driver had their license and appropriate roadworthiness documentation with them and the car showed no signs of being unroadworthy.
Police directed a resident of Common Ground, who was standing on her balcony, to “stop blowing bubbles”.
Treatment of legal observers
Despite a Detective Chief Inspector initially recognising the legitimacy of legal observers performing their work, a Senior Constable issued a move on order to two observers and told them they had no right to observe under the current restrictions.
The NSW Council of Civil Liberties had issued a letter confirming that observers were undertaking internationally recognised human rights work which it is not reasonably practicable to do from home. The Detective Chief Inspector initially accepted that this constituted a reasonable excuse under the Public Health Order and agreed that observers had a right to continue performing their work.
However, in a subsequent interaction a Senior Constable rejected the legitimacy of legal observing work, stating that she had not heard of legal observing or the NSW Council of Civil Liberties. The Senior Constable first said that observers needed a permit to carry out observing. When asked to check in with the DCI, she initiated several calls. She then reported that she had done so, and that the DCI had not authorised legal observing. She also reported that she had now received legal advice that an approved work exemption was required and that legal observing was not on the list of approved work types.
This was in direct contrast to what the DCI had told an observer less than 30 minutes prior.
The Senior Constable then issued the observers with a move on order and took down their contact details. At about the same time, a move on order was issued to several people in the vicinity. The timing of these orders prevented observers from witnessing police behaviour. Observers were unable to observe two incidents of particular concern, both of which involved police separating and questioning two people with no other witnesses in attendance.
Police had similarly put a stop to legal observing by deploying concurrent move on orders at the car convoy protest observed by LONSW on 1 August. Police also took photographs of legal observers for the second time in recent months.
Legal Observers NSW expresses serious concern that NSW Police are exercising their powers in a way that is not consistent with the Public Health Act and prevents observers from performing their work.