“Imagine if each one of those cameras was a plain-clothes policeman, people would be up in arms.”
Mr Burnside’s comments were at odds with remarks he made earlier in the week, when he told The Age that the surveillance units “seemed pretty sensible”.
Victorian federal Liberal MP Tim Wilson urged the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to investigate whether the curfew violates “rights and freedoms”.
The Premier said this week that there was no public health basis for the decision to implement an 8pm to 5am stay-at-home direction after Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he hadn’t requested the measure.
Mr Andrews justified the curfew decision by saying it was designed to aid law enforcement, but Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said police hadn’t requested the curfew either.
Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius made it clear on Friday that the curfew had his support and that it had been “of significant benefit” in reducing crime, but said he did not believe it should be extended any longer than necessary.
“While police don’t write the Chief Health Officer’s directions … we have certainly found the curfew of significant benefit in terms of us being able to keep the community safe,” he said.
“There has been a reduction in the number of out-of-control parties being held in the CBD since the curfew, as well as a drop in high-harm crimes such as carjackings and home invasions.
“I would never advocate for the curfew to stay in place. The curfew can and should come off at the earliest opportunity, when we have the transmission of the virus under control.”
The state government published traffic data on Friday showing the curfew’s effect in clearing Melbourne’s roads.
It showed a “pronounced and sustained” drop in vehicle traffic between the hours of 7pm and midnight across Melbourne. Between the hours of midnight and 6am the curfew had more of an impact closer to the city, with the report attributing higher outer suburban traffic to the concentration of essential workers.
However, new data from the University of Sydney obtained by The Age indicated that the Melburnians using public transport in inner-suburban areas doubled on the final weekend of August, although all forms of transport remained extremely low, at 9 per cent of normal levels.
Des Pearson, the state’s Auditor-General from 2006 to 2012, said the Andrews government should be more transparent with the justification for its decisions during the pandemic.
“We’re in democracy and we’re facing a crisis, so I think it would be good to see the government have the maturity to be transparent about it,” Mr Pearson said. “On balance I think transparency is probably more deserved in a pandemic.”
“It’s a complex issue and a complex problem and in some ways governments can’t win, so I understand why they’re a bit toey. But I believe in transparency and when in doubt, share the decision.”
Asked about Liberal MP Tim Wilson’s approach to the Human Rights Commission asking the agency to investigate the curfew, the Premier said: “It’s not a matter of human rights; it’s about human life.”
“That’s my answer to Mr Wilson, and what he chooses to do with his time is a matter for him.”
The attack on the government over human rights came as federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the federal government was set to “step up” the attack on Victoria’s COVID-19 curfew and the Andrews state Labor government’s conservative approach to opening up the economy from its tough stage four restrictions.
Mr Hunt told an Adelaide radio station he believed Prime Minister Scott Morrison would have the backing of the Victorian public in a push to convince Mr Andrews to move more quickly out of lockdown and to consider lifting the curfew.
“Never underestimate the power of the public and the Prime Minister and a federal government working in concert,” Mr Hunt said.
“The Victorian public, the medical community, the epidemiologists, the federal government, the business community, they’ve been speaking out about these thresholds and targets and triggers.”
But the Premier told his daily media briefing on Friday that the curfew was working and it would remain in place while stage four restrictions continued.
“There are very few legal reasons to leave your home and the curfew doesn’t change that,” Mr Andrews said.
“It simply means that police have got an easier job.”
Mr Andrews said police needed rules they could enforce.
“This [virus suppression] strategy only works if we can limit movement, and the traffic data I’ve given you today makes it very, very clear that the curfew does limit movement.
“If you want our police to be spending all their time moving people on from Macca’s car parks where there are pop-up social gatherings that are not lawful … I’m not going to have our police spending their time doing that.”
Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age
Michael is a state political reporter for The Age.