NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is resisting pressure to reprimand Arts Minister Don Harwin but the frontbencher could still face a $1000 fine for staying at his Central Coast holiday home amid coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Harwin was at his Pearl Beach house on Wednesday afternoon, more than an hour’s drive from his east Sydney residence.
It comes as the state government says all non-essential travel to regional NSW towns must be cancelled including Easter holiday trips.
But Ms Berejiklian said Mr Harwin hadn’t broken the rules as he had relocated three weeks ago, before COVID-19 regulations came into effect.
Mr Harwin made the premier aware of the change of his principal place of residence a few days ago, according to Ms Berejiklian.
She nevertheless ordered the MP to return to Sydney as the “perception is horrible”.
“I regret and apologise to everybody that someone from my team undertook this activity,” the premier told reporters on Thursday.
“It’s not just about sticking to the rules, it’s about making sure there’s a perception that everybody is sticking to the rules including members of parliament.”
Ms Berejiklian suggested “personal health reasons” had prompted Mr Harwin’s move to the Central Coast. NSW Police have been tasked with determining if Mr Harwin’s actions constituted a breach to public health orders.
Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said he couldn’t force Mr Harwin to answer questions but would seek an explanation via Police Minister David Elliott.
“If his excuse doesn’t cut the mustard he’ll get a $1000 fine,” Mr Fuller said.
Ms Berejiklian said she would wait for police to establish the facts before determining if further disciplinary action was necessary.
“If someone is shown to act in a way which is against the ministerial code or against the laws of this state, of course, I’ll take action,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Officials across the world have been caught flouting self-isolation rules and reprimanded including Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood and New Zealand Health Minister David Clark.
Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton described Mr Harwin’s behaviour as frustrating and reminded Australians to not underestimate the virus.
“We’ve really been able to reduce the number of cases in a way in which has impacted the community,” Mr Dutton told 2GB Radio on Thursday.
“But if we have community transmission then … it can get away very quickly.”