“I saw the police car behind me to pull over … I was confused – I was under the limit, had my L-plates up,” she said.
“[The police officer] said I’d be getting fined … I was just so shocked.”
In the 24 hours to 8am Monday, Victoria Police conducted 983 spot checks at homes, businesses and non-essential services across the state as part of Operation Sentinel.
They issued 108 fines during the period. They have now issued a total of over 300 fines.
Hunter’s mother, Sheree Reynolds, said she was also stunned by the fine. She said their Hampton East family of six had barely left the house and have not been seeing anyone else during the COVID-19 crisis.
Ms Reynolds said she felt the police officer could have used more discretion and issued a warning.
“I thought [the driving lesson] was educational. I did not believe for one minute what we were doing was a problem or breaking the rules given we weren’t planning on stopping or getting out of the car,” she said.
“I guess for a minute I was waiting for common sense to prevail there and it didn’t.”
Under stage 3 restrictions, Victorians are unable to leave home except to go shopping for food and essential supplies, to provide medical care or for compassionate needs, to exercise, or to work and study if it can’t be done from home.
Individuals and businesses face hefty fines if they are found to be in breach of these guidelines.
Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said he had spoken to the local Assistant Commissioner Bob Hill and they will review the fine.
“Although we are satisfied that was a lawfully issued infringement, I’ve spoken with the assistant commissioner for the region and in conjunction with the member we will be looking at whether discretion should or could be applied in this circumstance,” he said.
Mr Patton said they will determine whether they will withdraw the fine “in due course”.
“Are we able to send a message to the public without having to fine in this circumstance?” he said.
“I think the fact it’s being raised has given actual clarity to the circumstance, so, it’s quite possible it will be withdrawn because the public are now aware they can’t do that activity unless, of course, it’s mixed in with driving to the shops, you are exempt to go and buy food, those sorts of things.”
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton supported the decision to issue the fine at a press conference on Monday afternoon, saying driving lessons are considered “non-essential travel”.
“There’s lots of things we’d all like to do right now, but this is not the world we live in at the moment,” he said.
Police Minister Lisa Neville agreed with Dr Sutton.
“My view is if everyone asks themselves, ‘Do I need to be doing this now?’ and the answer is no you should not be doing it. That is the common sense assessment,” she said.
“This is not a popularity contest about what thing we should have or not have. These are health recommendations by the Chief Health Officer which Victoria Police are implementing and enforcing. Sometimes they use discretion, sometimes they think the fine is worthy.”
Ms Reynolds, who first spoke to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on Monday to try and get some clarification around the incident, said they planned to challenge the fine in court if it wasn’t dismissed.
She said said she believed the rules are mostly straightforward but there are some grey areas that needed to be clarified.
“I hope that they would use common sense and dismiss the fine,” she said.
Hunter said “heaps” of her friends had been going for driving lessons with their parents, unaware it was an issue.
“After they found out what happened [to me] everyone was so shocked, they had no clue. No one knows what’s happening,” she said.
Mr Patton also announced the commencement of Operation Shielding, which will see over 200 Protective Services Officers and transit police redeployed to do foot patrols to prevent crime such as commercial burglaries.
Another caller to radio station 3AW said his son was fined $1652 on the weekend while driving from Melbourne to the family holiday house in Rye to help an elderly neighbour, who was concerned about damage from a falling tree.
An 18-year-old driver, who was allegedly involved in a car chase before he rammed a police vehicle in Wyndham in the early hours of Sunday, was also fined $1652 for being in breach of the health restrictions, as was his 24-year-old passenger.
Simone is a crime reporter for The Age. Most recently she covered breaking news for The Age, and before that for The Australian in Melbourne.