How Australia became a ‘Nation of Dobbers’ – news.com.au | Wonder Mind Kids

In August 2021, as Sydneysiders went into strict lockdown amid rising coronavirus cases, a newspaper headline blared: “Police Secretary Says Public Advice Needed to Stop Covid-19 Outbreak.”

David Elliott implored NSW citizens to “regard crime stoppers as one of the most useful and important weapons in the war on Covid” and urged them to report “illegal” family gatherings and household visits that may be helping to spread the virus.

“The extent of your freedom depends on the number of cases,” then-Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian warned millions of imprisoned residents.

During the pandemic, Australians in NSW and across the country have been keen to comply.

At birthday parties and family celebrations, nosy neighbors called the police.

Concerned citizens took pictures and publicly shamed each other for not wearing masks.

Companies have even won their own customers.

In mid-2020, Melbourne restaurant owner Salvatore Micali posted a photo of an order for nine pizzas on Facebook and asked a local community group if he should call the police.

“Someone’s having a party I assume,” he wrote. “Definitely a shame. Put yourself in my shoes, what would you do?”

Mr Micali told the ABC that the person on the phone sounded young and that 8pm seemed too late for a normal household order.

“I played my part for the Richmond community,” he said, later posting to the Facebook group that “a collection attempt has been halted.”

In early 2020, a family in Beaumaris, south-east Melbourne, was fined $1,652 for throwing their eight-year-old son a birthday party.

Back then, gatherings of more than two people were banned in Victoria – and angry neighbors immediately called the police about the “arrogant” parents.

“It looked like an auction, there were so many people,” neighbor Claire May said Seven messages. “I counted fifty. I was angry, very angry.”

In September 2020, a Twitter user posted a photo of two boys selling snacks and drinks at a stall on the Ramsden Reservation “during phase four of lockdown” and tagged Yarra Council to take care of it.

“Pretty silly in my humble opinion,” he wrote. “Maybe it’s worth sending someone there? You didn’t listen to me. Along the Yarra Trail hiking trail.”

Last month, a Melbourne playwright wrote about calling the police over a neighbor’s birthday party.

“Just saw a couple of people come to a neighbor’s house for a birthday party – with gifts and food/drinks. Should I report them?” he wrote on Twitter.

In a follow-up tweet, he wrote: “Yes, I reported her. Had to go back and get the exact address. They’re a few streets away. It looked as if other visitors had also arrived when I passed by again.”

And in Dandenong, a nightly KFC outreach cost a group of “selfish” revelers a whopping $26,000. Two ambulance workers were at the south Melbourne restaurant at 1.30am when they saw two people ordering 20 meals.

The eagle-eyed ambos took off their car license plates and notified police, who tracked the offending chicken lovers to a nearby townhouse, where they arrested 16 people at a birthday party.

“It’s ridiculous, this kind of behavior,” Victoria Police Commissioner Shane Patton said at the time. “At that amount, that’s $26,000 that this birthday party is costing her.”

According to UNSW Associate Professor of Law and Justice Catherine Bond, ‘dobbing’ became ‘Australia’s favorite emergency pastime’ during Covid.

“What we see when we look at the Crime Stopper data is that when the government declares a state of emergency, it’s being monitored really enthusiastically, even by ordinary people,” she told UNSW Newsroom this week.

“During the Covid lockdown, when work from home took effect, people also couldn’t help but notice what their neighbors were up to. For example, there were all these new restrictions and people had a lot more free time because they were working from home. They could see what their neighbors were doing a lot more than usual.”

In 2019, Crime Stoppers received 313,655 reports. In 2020 the number increased by more than 100,000 to a total of 417,675, and in 2021 the reports rose again to 584,985.

“This increase in the number of reports is really significant and just huge when you think about it,” she said.

The research of Prof. Bond, published in the Alternative Law Journalexplored how, contrary to the country’s modern ‘friendship culture’, Australians enthusiastically embraced ‘spying’ during Covid – drawing parallels to anti-German dobbing in WWI.

Both Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott have been caught not wearing face masks by members of the public, with Mr Abbott noting that he “never thought dobbing and snitching was part of the Australian character”.

“During an emergency [however]Australia is indeed becoming ‘a nation of dobbers’, with the ‘dobbing and snitching’ aspects of ‘Australian character’ firmly on display’, wrote Prof Bond.

“While some are motivated to ensure that ‘their communities and families remain safe,’ to use Elliott’s words, in other circumstances dobbing is done for more private, less community-oriented reasons.”

Prof Bond said the dobbing explosion was facilitated in both cases by the creation of legal frameworks, public health orders in the case of Covid and the War Precautions Act 1914 during the First World War.

These emergency legal frameworks provide a “foundation for both the act of dobbing and cultural permission to double”.

The rise in dobbing has been a major reason behind millions of dollars in fines imposed for public health offenses such as:

In NSW alone, police issued around 62,000 fines totaling $56.4 million between March 2020 and April 2022.

Statistics showed that fines were disproportionately imposed in the socio-economically disadvantaged areas.

Community groups have again called for the cancellation of tens of millions of dollars in outstanding fines following a damning independent review of Australia’s Covid response released last month.

“At this point there is ample evidence that Covid fines have been applied unevenly and often incorrectly,” Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Karly Warner said after the Shergold report was released.

Samantha Lee, senior police accountability solicitor at the Redfern Legal Center, said the report was “further evidence that the response to the Covid pandemic is still being felt strongly by those experiencing high levels of social deprivation.” .

“I still have clients calling about fines related to Covid-19, which are now in the enforcement order stage,” she said.

“Some clients are crying from the stress caused by the order, and others feel they have no choice but to sue in court and risk a criminal record and court costs.”

But Prof Bond warned that dobbing “is likely to continue – if not increase – if the pandemic continues”.

“With more health and climate change emergencies likely in the foreseeable future, it is questionable whether this behavior — facilitated by law and dictated by both public and personal interests — will recur as challenges arise,” she wrote.

frank.chung@news.com.au

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