NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has accepted the resignation of Arts Minister Don Harwin for flouting travel restrictions as hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines were doled out to virus lawbreakers.
Mr Harwin was fined $1000 by NSW Police for relocating from Elizabeth Bay to his holiday home at Pearl Beach on the Central Coast “in contravention of a current ministerial direction”.
He was ordered by the Premier to return to his primary residence on Thursday and announced his resignation from cabinet on Friday evening.
“There is nothing more important than the work of the government in fighting the coronavirus crisis,” Mr Harwin said in a statement on Friday evening.
“I will not allow my circumstances to be a distraction from that work and I very much regret that my residential arrangements have become an issue during this time.”
Mr Harwin said he’d sought at all times to act in accordance with public health orders and “remains confident” he had done so.
But he also acknowledged that “perception is just as important during these times”.
Mr Harwin’s social distancing blunder comes amid a coronavirus crackdown over the Easter weekend, with hefty fines issued to people disobeying pleas to stay at home.
While authorities praised most Australians for adhering to social distancing measures, disobedient Queenslanders were fined almost $400,000 for breaking coronavirus regulations.
As of Friday morning, 289 people in the Sunshine State had been fined a total of $385,526, including 18 hoons at a car gathering in a Loganholme industrial area south of Brisbane.
More than 10 vehicles were intercepted and 18 infringement notices of $1334 issued at the gathering for failing to comply with a COVID-19 direction, police said on Friday.
Victoria Police have been on a five-day operation enforcing safety on the state’s roads and have the added task of nabbing non-essential travellers.
Victorians are only meant to leave their homes for essential travel, including to buy food and to exercise under the stage three rules while many of the beaches along the surf coast are closed.
In NSW, residents were praised for not flocking to popular hotspots.
“Right around the state, police are reporting there’s a good deal of consideration and compliance with those requests around not travelling and social distancing,” said Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys.
“The movement of people with caravans and holidaymakers with surfboards and camping gear – it is almost non-existent.”
Don Harwin resignation
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said no-one was above the social distancing rules and travel restrictions.
“The police, who have been tasked by my government with enforcing these health orders, came to the conclusion that Minister Harwin breached the order,” the Liberal leader said on Friday evening.
“While 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.”
The minister earlier this week said he’d been mostly living on the Central Coast for four months for health reasons.
“I live in a very built-up area in Sydney with high density and here I have windows that can open so I can have the fresh air and I can walk in fresh air and I have more room in my house here than I would have in my small apartment,” he told the Daily Telegraph in Pearl Beach.
The NSW Police commissioner has previously said people should be in lockdown at their primary residences to prevent regional hospitals from potentially becoming overwhelmed with sick city-dwellers.
Officials across the world who have been reprimanded for flouting self-isolation rules and reprimanded including Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood and New Zealand Health Minister David Clark.