A YOUNG couple has been fined for not wearing masks while driving back from a dinner date in the Hunter Valley because they do not live together.
Despite being in a close relationship, the young man and woman were pulled over and each fined $200 for not wearing a mask while in the car together. The young man's mother, Kristen Hadley, said they had masks with them, but they had been unaware of this rule.
"They weren't given the opportunity to get a directive, they were just told they were being fined," she said. "This isn't a protest about mask wearing, it's just about the lack of communication."
As well as calling the state member for Lake Macquarie, Greg Piper, Ms Hadley said she contacted ServiceNSW who said mask-wearing in regional NSW in a car with someone from another household was not mandatory, but "highly recommended".
Further advice from police suggested otherwise.
After sifting through legislations, Ms Hadley said she found an exception "buried" in one of the amendments under "Movements and Gatherings".
"Why not communicate all of the rules to make it easier for everybody?" she said.
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They are not alone.
Brad Gunning, of Gunning Crane Trucks, said two of his employees had been fined $300 each for not wearing a mask in a truck that was delivering a spa to Armidale. He said a highway patrol officer had turned around to pull them over near Muswellbrook, and the first thing he'd asked was: "Do you two live together?"
"We had actually called Service NSW the week before - when the restrictions came in - to make sure what we were doing was correct," Mr Gunning said. "I'm happy to abide, but you have to know what the rules are. This one hasn't come up at all. We had no idea we weren't doing the right thing. We rang Service NSW again yesterday and the lady said it was our responsibility to know the rules. I explained that we had called them to find them out, and she said, 'We are only an information centre - we don't give you the exact rules'. That was her exact wording."
Mr Gunning said they had been told to fight the fines in court.
"The only thing I found states that the only reason an officer will fine you is if you refuse to put a mask on after they ask you to," he said.
"They had masks with them. If he'd asked them to put one on, they would have. But it was 'Too bad, so sad. Your fines will come in the mail."
Mr Piper, speaking about the young couple that was fined, said it was an "unhelpful over-reach" from an obscure part of the health regulations.
"To issue a fine because they were unmasked in their car I think was a wasted opportunity to pass on a message and give some goodwill to the community," he said.
"I think the police are doing an amazing job, but here was an opportunity to use some discretion. They were a young couple and therefore can be together at any other time, but because they were in the car, they were fined.
"I don't think that was the intention of the health orders when they were put through.
"Some common sense and leeway could have been given in this particular case."
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