Disruption - 10th Annual Honi Soit Writing Competition

Mapping COVID-19: Cases, fines and anti-Asian racism in NSW

Honi investigates how the COVID-19 crisis is playing out geographically.

With the New South Wales Government introducing the Public Health Act on 17 March in a bid to curb cases of coronavirus in the state, Honi takes a look at the rates of COVID-19, how the NSW Police Force is punishing breaches of the legislation, and incidents of anti-Asian racism.  

To date, the majority of confirmed cases in every state in Australia were acquired overseas, with low rates of community transition nationwide. In terms of overseas travel, the considerable majority of COVID-19 cases have been traced back to cruise ships and travelling in Europe and the Americas. 

This goes some way in explaining somewhat of a correlation between higher income postcodes and rates of the coronavirus. For example, in Sydney the highest rates of virus cases are in the local government areas of Waverley and the City of Sydney. 

Yet, whilst rates of the virus are comparatively high in Sydney’s leafy, beachside suburbs, rates of fines are comparatively low. With 177 cases in Waverley, two fines have been issued. The Northern Beaches report 151 cases but only four fines have been issued. Yet, in Sydney’s more working class and ethnically diverse western suburbs, the rates are notably higher. By local government area (LGA), Blacktown (106 cases) has been hit with 12 fines, Canterbury-Bankstown (88 cases) with 13, Liverpool (48 cases) with 9 and Parramatta (45 cases), with 9. 

Whilst the highest number of fines have been issued in the City of Sydney (with the second highest number of virus cases), the CBD and its surrounds may be considered to be an outlier, bucking the general trend.

The table below compares COVID-19 cases with highest and lowest 7 LGA’s, in terms of median weekly income (personal).

Top 7

LGAMedian Weekly Income (personal)COVID-19 CasesFines
Municipality of Woollahra$1,365921
Mosman Council$1,295420
North Sydney Council$1,165420
Lane Cove Council$1,149370
Waverley Council$1,0481772
Inner West Council$957704
Ku-ring-gai Council$946222
TOTALS$1132 (avg)4829

Bottom 7

LGAMedian Weekly Income (personal)COVID-19 CasesFines
City of Blacktown$63310612
City of Campbelltown$632345
Municipality of Burwood$55280
City of Canterbury-Bankstown$5028813
Cumberland Council$501662
City of Liverpool$466489
City of Fairfield$439297
TOTALS$532 (avg)37948

Further, whilst Sydney accounts for close to triple the amount of COVID-19 cases compared to the rest of New South Wales, when it comes to issuing fines, there is a disproportionate split. For fines where a location has been logged, Sydney has been hit by 147, and the rest of New South Wales by 145.

Of particular interest are the seven LGAs with no confirmed cases of COVID-19 who have been hit by fines. These include: Balranald Shire (7) in the Riverina region, Bourke Shire (3) in the Orana region, Cobar Shire (10) in the Orana region, Moree Plains (1) in the North West slopes region, Murray River Council (1) in the Riverina region, Murrumbidgee Council (2) in the Riverina region and Walgett Shire (3) in the Orana region. 

If we take these laws and the enforcement of them by the police to be a) necessary and b) enforced purely for the sake of our public health and safety, the geographical implementation of them seems disproportionate. 

It is pertinent to mention then that six out of seven of the above LGAs have high Indigenous populations, with Balranald Shire at 13.3%, Bourke Shire at 31.5%, Cobar Shire at 11.8%, Moree Plains at 21.6%, Murrumbidgee Shire at 7.5% and Walgett Shire at 29.4%. As of the 2016 census, the state’s Indigenous population was 2.9%. 

In response to Honi’s questions regarding how the Force is policing the pandemic, a spokesperson said “there was no correlation between the number of people with the virus in a specific area and the number of people who have breached the public health order.”

Click on the top left link beside “Mapping COVID-19” to compare COVID-19 cases, fines and racism-incidents in LGA’s across Sydney and greater NSW.

Yet, the notion that the NSW Police Force are a neutral body and police in such a manner must come into question. Continual instances of oppressive police relationships with Indigenous communities and more general heavy-handedness typifies the problematic allowance of ‘discretion’ especially in the current health crisis, which has long-term and pervasive impacts. 

Moreover, the very nature of non-income dependent fines as a punishment mechanism by nature are discriminatory as their role as a deterrent is undermined for wealthier demographics. These effects are pronounced in the current situation, where wealthier LGAs have higher cases of the virus. 

Instances of anti-Asian racism have also been on the rise throughout the coronavirus crisis. Last week, a 55 year old man was charged by NSW Police after he allegedly threatened people with a whip outside the Chinese consulate in Sydney. In response to increased racism, the Asian Australian Alliance has put out a survey, which is forming a database of incidents. Whilst only launched just over two weeks ago, national convenor of the alliance, Erin Wen Ai Chew told Honi that there have already been 66 complaints via the survey in NSW alone, as of 17 April.

Whilst seven of the complainants did not include locations, most did and these have been plotted on the map.

This table shows the top 7 LGAs by incidents of racism, courtesy of data provided by the Asian Australian Alliance. 

LGAIncidents of racismMost common ancestry
City of Sydney10Australian, English, Chinese, Irish
Bankstown-Canterbury7Lebanese, Australian, English, Chinese
Northern Beaches Council4English, Australian, Irish, Scottish
City of Randwick3English, Australian, Chinese, Irish
Burwood Council3Chinese, English, Australian, Italian
City of Parramatta3Indian, Chinese, English, Australian
City of Ryde3Chinese, English, Australian, Italian

As indicated above, six out of the seven LGAs have high Chinese populations.

Ultimately, whilst many say that this virus doesn’t discriminate, it’s clear that responses to it do. Whether in the form of policing or anti-Asian racism, this virus, much like other crises continues to exacerbate the structural inequalities in our society. 

All data as of Friday 17 March

Fines

Information on fines was collected from the NSW Police website and samples 292 fines out of 609.

COVID-19 information

Virus information was collected from NSW Health.

Demographic information 

Demographic information was collected from 2016 Census data. 

Racism incidents

Anti-Asian racism information was compiled from data provided by the Asian Australian Alliance survey into racist incidents from 2 April.