“I told the officer ‘yes’ and she said ‘driving to exercise is not permitted’.”
An athlete who exercises daily and has recorded times just 10 seconds short of qualifying for the national competition, Nikki thought she was abiding by the social distancing laws passed during the lockdown.
“She’s like – I’ll let you do your last lap and then you have to go back to your car and go home,” she said.
“How are we expected to maintain social distancing rules if we can’t drive to the place to do our exercise?”
Police have said people can be fined if they leave home for anything other than obtaining food and supplies, the provision of care, exercising, and working or learning.
They have also said people will not be penalised for buying goods and services from commercial outlets that had not been ordered to close, so long as they observed social-distancing rules.
The Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre, which runs the Police Accountability Project, has received dozens of reports documenting interactions with police that have left people confused and frustrated.
The legal centre has launched website Policing Covid to encourage people to report their interactions with police as part of a statewide project monitoring the impact of new policing powers.
Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre CEO Anthony Kelly said if police decision-making regarding restrictions becomes arbitrary, not only is the law inconsistently applied but penalties, like fines, will become increasingly problematic.
“It speaks to police becoming arbiters of different information that go beyond the spirit and letter of health restrictions, reflecting a general pattern of confusion and overreach,” he said.
“Also seeing the increased likelihood of police initiated stops can result in other charges emerging.”
This factor, Ms Lesberg says, has been at the back of her mind since the incident.
“I feel anxious now. I feel like there’s going to be a police officer on the side of the road waiting to pick me up and tell me I’m doing something wrong,” she said.
Lawyer at Justice Connect Emma Buckley-Lennox said they’ve assembled a self-help hub to assist people attempting to understand new laws as they are put on the books.
“Instead of having something that ensured everyone understood the laws before enforcing them, police are enforcing them from the get-go,” she said.
Victoria Police has been contacted for comment.
David Estcourt works for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.