Ahead of the upcoming NSW Election, voters would do well to remember past Liberal manoeuvrings, like the lockdown fee scam subjected to those under COVID-19 quarantine, writes Dr Evan Jones.
ON 27 FEBRUARY 2020, then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared that COVID-19 in Australia had reached the status of a pandemic.
On 27 March, Morrison imposed compulsory quarantine on Australian travellers arriving from overseas.
The Biosecurity Act 2015 was claimed to provide the legal basis for the compulsion. Returning travellers were to be incarcerated for 14 days at Her Majesty's pleasure. In reply to a reporter's question about costs, Morrison claimed that the costs were to be "managed" by the states and territories.
On 30 June 2020, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews closed Melbourne Airport. Sydney was to be, de facto, the destination for travellers returning to South-Eastern Australia - the majority of the returnees.
On 12 July 2020, then-NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that those quarantined were going to be charged for the service, saying it was:
Berejiklian, then-NSW Police Commissioner Michael Fuller, Revenue NSW's Chief Commissioner of State Revenue Scott Johnston (recently appointed) and then-NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet presided over the decision. The program lasted until 30 April 2022.
Except that charging for the "service" was illegal. Much bureaucratic preparation and subsequent cover-up went on to keep the details behind the establishment of the operation secret. Berejiklian had previously organised a cessation of parliamentary conventions by which the state's finances were reported monthly and even to have presentation of the annual Budget deferred.
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In March, Morrison had banned foreign nationals from entering the country. On 9 July, he and Berejiklian decided to ration the number of Australians permitted to return. Intending passengers were lied to regarding their inability to get on a successful flight home. By contrast, the Indian Government had organised and financed a procedure to facilitate the return of its own nationals to India.
Moreover, the charging regime has been unequally applied. Some returnees were not billed (a "separate approval arrangement" had been established). Some were ultimately given waivers. Some were charged but haven't paid. Some are fighting the charge. It appears that those who didn't pay have not been consistently pursued.
Revenue NSW's database has been seriously incomplete. However, the agency disclosed to a newspaper that almost $264 million had been collected to the date of the program's cessation. It seems that the risk of pursuing those who hadn't paid was that the illegality of the scheme would be exposed.
Then there's tennis player Novak Djokovic. Djokovic apparently went through all the proper channels and achieved formal assent from the Australian and Victorian governments to travel to Victoria and play in the 2022 Australian Open.
However, on arrival in the very early morning of 6 January (after flying for 25 hours), Djokovic was subject to interrogation, because of the hour, denied access to assistance and held in detention.
On 10 January 2022, a judge had overturned his planned removal, but the relevant minister appealed. Three compliant judges of the Federal Court ratified the removal on 16 January, and Djokovic was duly flown out the next day.
The Appeal Court was presided over by Chief Justice James Allsop, coincidentally awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia in the 2023 Australia Day Honours for 'eminent service to the judiciary and to the law...'.
The Australian public wasn't informed of the terms on which Djokovic's entry was approved. Morrison's popularity was then in decline and Djokovic became road kill to boost Morrison's falling popularity - a political, not a medical, decision. The popular Djokovic's public stance on vaccination had him seen as a danger in corrupting individuals regarding the legitimacy of vaccination and lockdowns.
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Late in the evening of 14 December 2020, Australian citizen Tatiana Turitsyna arrived in Sydney from Moscow. Turitsyna had temporarily departed from Australia on 26 February 2020 but had long been prevented from returning. Along with the Australian Border Force checking documentation, there was the Australian Defence Force. When Turitsyna answered a question from the person in front of her in the line, an army person told her that talking wasn't allowed.
Each passenger was handed a form signed by the NSW Police Commissioner Michael Fuller, citing authority that persons arriving in New South Wales by aircraft were compelled to undertake mandatory quarantine for 14 days.
The letter also claimed that such people would be charged a mandatory quarantine fee for quarantine accommodation. The authority had expired in early December but it was enforced regardless. A separate document expanded on the fees payable. Turitsyna was, remarkably, not tested for COVID at the airport.
Turitsyna was taken to the Novotel Hotel and retained there for not 14 but 15 days - in the process, missing her booked flight to Melbourne. She was threatened for opening the door slightly for fresh air, as she felt she couldn't breathe. It was management policy to turn off the air conditioning overnight.
The quarantine was claimed to be overseen by "health services" under the auspices of the Sydney Local Health District (SHLD). This was misrepresented. The SHLD was merely a front to give a police operation the appearance of legality. Turitsyna was subject to a brusque test by people designated as nurses but received no accompanying information, with the procedure entirely contrary to protocol.
Local operatives were employed by a company called Healthcare Australia (NSW Liberal Party grandee Nick Greiner had been the company's chairman ten years previously), which does not provide health care, but is a personnel recruitment agency.
We know these details of Turitsyna's experience and the background to mandated quarantine because Tatiana Turitsyna is the wife of one John Helmer.
Helmer usually spends his time on things Russian, documenting the business dealings of and spats between oligarchs, interrogating the presumed Novichok poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, the presumed underpants poisoning of claimed "Opposition leader" Alexei Navalny, the presumed Russia-backed shootdown of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and the subsequent Dutch court attribution of guilt, etcetera.
Helmer's customary forensic attention to detail has also been applied here to the case of mandatory quarantine. It's in a 300-page book called Australian Fascism: How It Destroyed The Courts -no bedtime easy read, this.
Quite. But Helmer wanted to have the stakes behind the litigation available in full for an uninformed public and for posterity. The mainstream media has stayed far from the scene.
On 21 January 2021, Turitsyna received an invoice for her quarantine in the sum of $3,000. Turitsyna and Helmer set about challenging the fee, subsequently experiencing a full-blown bureaucratic and judicial run-around.
On 20 July 2021, Turitsyna filed suit against Revenue NSW in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), a court endowed with the appropriate powers. The NSW powers that be, centred on Scott Johnston, attempted to deny that NCAT had jurisdiction - seeking (then and continuously) dismissal of Turitsyna's suit.
They attempted to have Turitsyna withdraw her application as ill-judged. Coincidentally, Revenue NSW stepped up the pressure - with threats to have the fee paid. It was imperative that the secrecy (from 12 July 2020) that covered the misrepresented and illegal character of the arrangements behind the mandated quarantine fee (also discretionary and thus discriminatory) could not be allowed to become public.
On 21 October 2021, Turitsyna submitted a response comprising 84 clauses (reproduced in eye-watering detail) outlining the legal background to her claim and the lack of legal substantiation for the Respondent's attempted dismissal.
Then something fell off the back of a truck on 28 October 2021. This was the record - the "work plan" - of the 12 July 2020 meeting at which the illegal plan was hatched - apparently released by an innocent staffer.
Turitsyna and Helmer dissected this document as part of a lengthy memorandum to the Tribunal on 4 November. The document highlights that those creating the procedure knew that it was a police action (necessitating state Budget funding) masquerading as a health service and that such personnel knew that such deception required that the plan's origins and character be maintained in secret.
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Secrecy also required that a necessary parliamentary debate on a statutory amendment be avoided. The document also provides prima facie cause as to NCAT's rightful jurisdiction over the contestation.
Helmer notes (p.141):
The first Tribunal hearing before Senior Member Jill Gatland took place on 12 November 2021.
Helmer, acting for Turitsyna, suggested to Gatland that if she had a conflict of interest - having had any engagement with the state instrumentalities before the Tribunal - she should recuse herself. Apparently, Gatland immediately went into a funk but, in regaining composure, denied any such engagements.
The Respondent asserted that this and subsequent hearings were not about the substance of Turitsyna's suit (the legality and discriminatory character of the quarantine fee) but a denial that NCAT had jurisdiction.
Turitsyna's 4 November deposition emphasised that discovery had been wholly inadequate and that a hearing on questions of fact precluded any dismissal application from the state's representations.
Under pressure from Turitsyna, Gatland agreed at a 17 November hearing to the authorisation of a summons for all records identified or implied in the "work plan". Gatland was sceptical that there was anything of substance to be learnt from further discovery.
Turitsyna and Helmer, with police expertise, ensured that the wording of the summons was all-encompassing of relevant documentation - a demand seemingly missed by Gatland.
On 30 November, the state's Crown Solicitor's Office (CSO) replied for Revenue NSW's Johnston that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction and that, in any case, no documents "responsive to the summons" were held by the Respondent.
Gatland presided over a third hearing on 10 February 2022.
She had difficulty confronting that multiple documents were required by the summons, referring instead to Helmer's insistence on the meaning of the material as intemperate: "You will need to stop shouting."
Gatland later, out of the blue, claimed that:
Gatland accepted the Crown Solicitor's claim that the Chief Commissioner of State Revenue (Johnston) had no summoned documents in his possession.
Notes Helmer (p.175):
Part two of this story to follow...
Dr Evan Jones is a retired political economist.