A minister who left his Sydney apartment to stay at his holiday home during the coronavirus pandemic has resigned.NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin was fin
A minister who left his Sydney apartment to stay at his holiday home during the coronavirus pandemic has resigned.
NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin was fined $1,000 on Thursday after he was found to breach COVID-19 restrictions by residing at his Central Coast holiday home.
The coalition frontbencher was spotted at his million-dollar Pearl Beach house earlier in the week, which is more than an hour’s drive from his east Sydney primary residence.
Following the controversy, the minister offered his resignation to Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday.
The premier said: ‘Whilst Minister Harwin has served the people of NSW well, and he continues to assure me that he did not break the rules, the orders in place apply equally to everyone.’
‘Accordingly, Minister Harwin has appropriately resigned from cabinet.’
NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin has resigned after he was found to stay at his holiday home during the coronavirus crisis
In a statement on Friday, Mr Harwin said there was nothing more important than the work of the government while fighting the coronavirus crisis.
‘I will not allow my circumstances to be a distraction from that work and I very much regret that my residential arrangements have become an issue during this time,’ he said.
‘At all times I have sought to act in accordance with public health orders and I sought advice that my living arrangements complied with those orders.’
Mr Harwin said he was confident he followed the public health orders but added that ‘perception is just as important’ during the health crisis.
‘The premier and her team are doing an outstanding job during the biggest crisis our state and nation have faced during our lifetimes,’
‘It is absolutely vital they should be able to focus entirely on the health and economic issues facing our community.’
Premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured) accepted Mr Harwin’s offer and said the strict coronavirus rules applied to everyone
Officers spoke with the 55-year-old on Thursday and he was issued with a $1,000 fine via email just before 9pm, NSW Police later said in a statement.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian defied calls to sack the MP but on Thursday told him to return to his Sydney apartment – acknowledging the ‘perception is horrible’.
‘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,’ the premier told reporters.
She said she became aware of his change of residence a few days ago, despite Mr Harwin travelling back to Sydney for a medical consultation and parliamentary sitting on March 24.
But Ms Berejiklian is adamant Mr Harwin didn’t break the rules because he relocated on March 13 before state COVID-19 regulations came into effect on March 17.
Not wanting to ’cause a distraction’, Mr Harwin confirmed he’d arrived back in Sydney in a statement on Thursday.
He apologised to the premier and the NSW community but insisted he had sought official advice to adhere to the public health order.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the restrictions are in place to protect the lives of people in NSW.
‘No one individual or corporation is above these laws – anyone suspected of breaching the orders will be investigated and if a breach is detected, they will be dealt with in accordance with the act,’ he said in a statement.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Harwin rejected he was a ‘tourist’ and claimed he had spent most of the past four months at Pearl Beach.
Pearl Beach (pictured) is a popular tourist spot on the New South Wales Central Coast
The 55-year-old said he had chosen to move out of Sydney for health reasons as someone with a history of respiratory problems.
But The Daily Telegraph reported Mr Harwin strongly argued against government plans to ban holidays during a Cabinet meeting.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro excused himself from the meeting after declaring he had a conflict of interest because he owned an Airbnb property.
Five ministers claimed Mr Harwin did not say he had a conflict of interest during the meeting, despite advertising his 1.3million property for $515 per night online.
‘There was a heated exchange between (Planning Minister Rob) Stokes and Harwin when Stokes was pushing a crackdown,’ someone in the meeting said.
‘It really surprised me, I couldn’t understand why. Now I understand why he was so strident.’
Police checkpoints are set up at the New South Wales/Queensland border to prevent non essential travel between the two states
Mr Harwin said he normally rented the property out but couldn’t due to the bushfires and COVID-19.
His spokesperson declined to comment on why the minister didn’t speak up about his conflict of interest during the meeting.
NSW Labor called for Mr Harwin to resign or for the premier to step in and relieve him of his ministerial duties.
‘He’s been selfish and he should be brought to account,’ Shadow Arts Minister Walt Secord told reporters before the resignation.
Mr Secord believes Mr Harwin – the head of the NSW Liberals’ left faction – is being protected as a ‘factional ally’ of Ms Berejiklian.
New South Wales police is urging residents to stay home this Easter Long Weekend
‘Anyone else would have been shown the door,’ he said.
‘She should do the right thing, show leadership and toss him out.’
Ms Berejiklian, however, said she wasn’t inclined to sack a minister on the basis of a potential fine but would wait for police to first establish the facts.
‘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.
It comes as the state government continues to urge the public against all non-essential travel to regional NSW towns, especially over the Easter long weekend.
Breaching social distancing guidelines in NSW could result in fines up to $11,000, six months in jail or a hefty $1,000 on-the-spot fine.