South west Sydney: COVID-policing the streets

The high visibility compliance operation by NSW Police draws criticism from the multicultural community. By RAJNI ANAND LUTHRA and RHEA NATH.

Reading Time: 4 minutes


As new restrictions are announced in Sydney to combat the concerning rise in cases, over a hundred police officers are currently patrolling the city’s south west to ensure strict compliance with public health orders.

This was not the response when the Northern Beaches or eastern suburbs faced similar community transmission. Instead, it’s been reserved for areas like Liverpool, Fairfield, and Canterbury-Bankstown that primarily comprise of multicultural communities.

While the move has drawn criticism across the board, NSW Police emphasise they are targeting the COVID-19 outbreak, not individuals of migrant backgrounds.

“There is nothing more important than the health and safety of our community and that is the focus of our police force, as they are out on the frontlines enforcing the health orders,” said David Elliott, Minister for Police and Emergency Services.

Calling the delta strain a “game changer”, he urged the community to comply with the government’s public health orders. He also elaborated that the additional police presence in south west Sydney, which constitutes nearly 1 million people, is a joint effort using resources from canine services, police aircrafts, transport command, and mounted officers.

COVID Compliance south west sydney
Source: NSW Police Force

According to Charishma Kaliyanda, Councillor, Liverpool City Council, this police presence only cements the long-standing mischaracterisation of multicultural communities.

“People in south west Sydney are law-abiding and there is acknowledgement that we all need to do our part and do the right thing when it comes to reducing the spread of this virus. We know that with people hospitalised, it’s serious.

“However, with the focus on policing and compliance in the premier’s response to south west Sydney versus the eastern suburbs, the implicit assumption is that our community doesn’t follow the rules. I’ve had many people contact me who are angry at this characterisation of our community,” she told Indian Link.

In fact, she adds, messaging around Sydney’s restrictions has been confusing and unclear so far.

“We didn’t start this pandemic in south west Sydney, but we will certainly play our role in dealing with it,” Kaliyanda insisted.

Her sentiment is echoed by Khushaal Vyas, lawyer and local resident.

“People in south west Sydney are not opposed to the enforcement of rules. What they are against is the regular double standard between the harsh police enforcement that seem to be reserved for the Western suburbs and yet never seem to be considered for affluent areas of Sydney who have also had regular instances of residents flouting health orders and contributing to the spread of the virus,” he told Indian Link.

He goes on, “I would have no complaint if a police crackdown had also been implemented in Bondi and the East. But we didn’t see that. In the very place the Bondi cluster started, there were no mounted police patrolling and handing out fines. It was not even considered.”

READ ALSO: Australia’s Indian community must hold the govt accountable

 It’s most concerning that history seems to be repeating itself after nine public housing towers in the gentrified inner suburbs of North Melbourne and Flemington saw similar police presence last year when they were locked down for two weeks with some of Australia’s most strict coronavirus restrictions. Much like south-west Sydney, these areas are home to multicultural communities, and the harsh lockdown has since been criticised for breaching human rights.

“It was less than a year ago when Melbourne’s public housing buildings suffered an inhumane and harsh lockdown of its, mostly migrant and First Nations, residents,” Democracy in Colour national director Neha Madhok has been quoted as saying.

“The police presence didn’t help reduce the case numbers then, and they won’t help in this instance either. The selective use of policing in south west Sydney smacks of racial scapegoating.”

With these recent developments, numerous organisations and individuals across party lines have highlighted the need of the hour for a strong, coordinated communication strategy to combat the outbreak. Instead of a strong police presence to enforce rules, they suggest resources be diverted to culturally appropriate information campaigns and paid pandemic leave for those impacted by these restrictions.

In a strongly-worded statement released this morning, Anne Stanley MP, Opposition Whip and Member for Werriwa, raised the call for public health messaging to be translated accurately and in enough languages as the city records 44 new cases overnight.

“The people of Sydney’s south west are as strong, community minded and hard working as any in Sydney. For the last 18 months we have complied with every health order, but consistently, we are singled out,” she stated.

“(These) communities will always do their bit in defence of their loved ones and the health of our community. We just want to be treated with the same respect and care as everyone else.”

COVID Compliance south west sydney
Source: NSW Police Force

Khushaal Vyas couldn’t agree more.

“Western Sydney is not against enforcement. We are against inconsistency and the convenient scapegoating of lower socio-economic areas and ethnic minorities that we are seeing far too often,” he said.

“These inconsistent policies have unfortunately divided Sydney at a time when we were supposed to be fighting through this together.”

READ ALSO: NSW lockdown lash-out

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