Australia’s coronavirus lockdown rules explained: can I still visit my partner and other questions

Can you get takeaway coffee with a friend? What about taking the dog for a walk? Laws to stop spread of coronavirus seem to change daily and in some states carry a big fine. Untangle them with our guide

two women walks dogs in a park




Australia’s coronavirus lockdown rules come with hefty fines in some states – and seem to change daily. Can you walk your dog? Today, yes. Tomorrow, who knows?
Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Since Monday, many states have brought in sweeping new laws restricting social gatherings and under what circumstances someone is permitted to leave their home.

While politicians have said these rules are simple, it is clear the public still has a lot of questions.

In most states enforcement is left up to police officers’ discretion, therefore it is difficult to provide exact information on what is or isn’t allowed.

Here we try to answer some of the most common questions people have about the new laws based on the information, though these answers should not be treated as legal advice. An asterisk indicates Guardian Australia has sought clarification from the state or territory government and will update when it is received.

Can I visit my romantic partner if we don’t live together?

  • New South Wales – Although legislation would suggest the answer is no, police commissioner Mike Fuller said on Wednesday that yes, you are allowed. This is considered to come under the “care” exemption.

  • Victoria – Yes, while originally it appeared that you would not be allowed to see your partner, on Wednesday afternoon the Victorian chief health officer tweeted that an exemption to the no social visits rule would be made for partners.

  • Queensland – No,* unless you or your partner lives alone. In Queensland, if you live alone you are allowed to have one guest over for social reasons.

  • Tasmania – Yes. Tasmania has a broad definition of “social support” which is considered an essential reason for leaving the home. This allows for romantic partners and family members to still visit one another.

  • Australian Capital Territory – Yes,* the ACT has said they will generally fall into line with NSW given their proximity. However, ACT’s police will focus more on enforcing rules on two-person gatherings and less on enforcing why residents have left their homes.

  • Western Australia – Yes. The way WA is enforcing the two-person law means households are allowed to have one guest at a time.

  • South Australia and Northern Territory – Yes, there are currently no fines for leaving the house for non-essential reasons, however unnecessary socialisation is discouraged. Gatherings are limited to 10.

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All states currently allow you to leave the home, and meet with one person to do exercise. This means you are allowed to meet your partner or a friend in public to exercise with them. Some states have limits on how far you can travel for exercise, however.

Can I temporarily move in with my partner during the lockdowns?

  • NSW – Yes, you are allowed to move house.

  • Victoria – Yes,* you are allowed to move house.

  • Queensland – Moving residences is not referenced in the legislation, Guardian Australia is seeking clarification.*

  • Tasmania, ACT and WA– Yes, you are allowed to move house.*

  • SA and NT – Yes, there are currently no fines for leaving the house for non-essential reasons.

Can I take my dog for a walk?

Yes, in all states you are allowed to leave your home for exercise, which includes dog walking. Social distancing measures should be observed while out, and in Victoria, NSW, Queensland, WA* Tasmania and ACT, you can only be joined by one other person or those in your household.

How far are you allowed to travel for exercise?

Police officers ask people sitting in parks to go home


NSW Police officers ask people sitting in a park to move on. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

No states have specific rules on the distance you are allowed to travel to exercise, however many have appealed for people to use “common sense”.

  • NSW – You are allowed to drive across town however you aren’t allowed to travel hours out of the city.

  • Victoria – Premier Daniel Andrews said on Twitter exercise had to be local and not “driving for miles and being out all day”.

  • Queensland, Tasmania and ACT – Not specified, however, the government urges residents to use common sense and avoid unnecessary travel.

  • WA – There are currently no fines for leaving your house for non-essential reasons, however, you are urged not to. Residents are asked to use common sense and avoid unnecessary travel.

  • SA and NT – There are currently no restrictions on the reasons for leaving your house, however, you are urged not to travel unless necessary.

Can my relatives babysit for me if we don’t live together?

The federal government is recommending those over 70, those with chronic illness over 60 and Indigenous people over 50, self-isolate as much as possible. However, no state will currently issue penalties to those who do not.

Therefore it’s recommended that elderly relatives do not look after children.

  • NSW – Yes, it counts as “care”.

  • Victoria – You are allowed to leave the home to provide caregiving, therefore likely yes.*

  • Queensland – You are allowed “provide assistance, care or support to an immediate member”, therefore likely yes.*

  • Tasmania – Yes, it counts as “social support”.

  • ACT – Unclear, but as they generally follow NSW rules, it likely counts as “care” and therefore yes.*

  • WA – Yes, families are generally exempt from the two-person gathering limits, however unnecessary social interaction is discouraged.

  • SA and NT – Yes, as long as a maximum of 10 people are at the gathering.

Can I visit my immediate family if we don’t live together?

  • NSW – Generally no.* On Wednesday police commissioner Mick Fuller said visiting romantic partners counted as “care” and was therefore allowed, however when Guardian Australia asked NSW police if visiting immediate family was also constituted as “care” they said that social visits do not count. We will seek further clarification on this issue. You can, however, visit family if you are caring for them, delivering them food, assisting with medication, taking them to the shops if they require assistance etc.

  • Victoria – Generally no, social visits are not allowed. However, you can visit to deliver food, provide medical care and for “compassionate reasons”.

  • Queensland – Generally no, unless they live alone and then they are allowed one social guest. You can also visit family members to provide care and support services.

  • Tasmania – Yes, this falls under “social support”, however, only two visitors are permitted in homes at any one time. Guardian Australia is seeking clarification if this means there is a maximum of three people allowed or a household plus two guests.*

  • ACT – Technically no. While the ACT is generally following the same social distancing rules as NSW, police will focus on enforcing rules limiting the public gathering to two people. They are less focused on the reasons people are leaving their homes or visiting others in small groups. However unnecessary social gathering as still discouraged.*

  • WA – Yes, families are generally exempt from the two-person gathering limits, however unnecessary social interaction is discouraged.

  • SA and NT – Yes, as long as there are a maximum of 10 people at the gathering, however, unnecessary social interaction is discouraged.

All states currently allow you to leave the home, and meet up with one person to do exercise. This means you are allowed to meet a family member in public to exercise with them. There are limits on how far you can travel for exercise, however, see above.

My kids live part-time with me and my partner. Are they still allowed to travel between homes?

Yes. Currently, all states allow you to uphold current shared parental agreements. This means you are allowed to drive your children to their other parent or carer’s residence, and they are allowed to visit your residence to pick children up.

Am I allowed to leave home if it’s an emergency or required by law?

Yes. All states allow you to leave your home if you are legally required to do so. You are allowed to flee violence, and you are allowed to leave if your house becomes uninhabitable.

Can I have social guests if I live alone?

All Australians have been urged to avoid unnecessary socialisation.

  • NSW and Victoria – No, social visits are not allowed.

  • Queensland – Yes, but only one. Your guest is allowed to leave their home to visit you.

  • Tasmania – Yes, this falls under “social support”.

  • ACT – Technically no, however, ACT police are focusing enforcement efforts on the size of gatherings and not the reasons for people leaving the house.*

  • WA – Yes, but only one person, or family.

  • SA and NT – Yes, but gathering must be limited to 10.

Can I get a coffee with a friend?

  • NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania – Yes, but only if it is takeaway and you have met a friend for the purpose of exercising.

  • ACT – Yes, as long as it is takeaway. Technically you must have met a friend for the purpose of exercising, however, ACT police are focusing enforcement efforts on the size of gatherings and not the reasons for people leaving the house.

  • WA, SA and NT – Yes, as long as it is takeaway.

Can I give someone a lift to work, even if they don’t live with me?

  • NSW – Yes you can drive a colleague to work with you, however, it is unclear if you can leave the house to drive someone to their job if you do not also work there. If they can not drive themselves this is likely covered under “care”.* You can only take one passenger or anyone who is part of your household.

  • Victoria and Queensland – Yes you can drive a colleague to work with you. Driving someone else to work if they can not drive themselves likely falls under “providing care and support”. You can only take one passenger or anyone who is part of your household.*

  • Tasmania – Yes, this is considered “social support”. You can only take one passenger or anyone who is part of your household.

  • ACT – Yes, however, you can only take one passenger or anyone who is part of your household.

  • WA – Yes, however, you can only take one passenger, family members or anyone who is part of your household.

  • SA And NT – Yes.

Can a tradesperson still come into my house to do work?

Yes, however only if it is for essential works. If it can wait, it should.

Physical distancing practices should be observed.

Who decides if I am breaking the new laws?

Generally, enforcement will be left up to the discretion of police officers.

States have expressed different approaches, for example, the ACT says it will be issuing a warning in the first instance, while Victoria has adopted a more hard-line attitude to those break social distancing rules.

What are my options for challenging a fine?

Not all states have specified this, however, it appears these fines can be appealed using the same process as other fines issued by police.

Information on how to lodge an appeal should be available on your state or territory’s government website.