NSW Police were arguing in the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon to have Saturday’s planned Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney declared illegal.
The police commissioner was seeking an injunction on the grounds the rally would breach COVID-19 health orders.
“All of us have given up so much and worked so hard to make sure we get on top of the virus,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Friday.
Ms Berejiklian said the protest initially proposed by the Black Lives Matter organisers was far smaller than that which was likely in Sydney’s CBD on Saturday.
She echoed the concerns of state authorities from across Australia that mass protests risked sparking a second wave of coronavirus infections.
“If people had made the decision to express their views strongly in a COVID-19 safe way … that would have been acceptable within the health orders, but that is not the case,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Federal and NSW frontbenchers, the state opposition and even Prime Minister Scott Morrison have questioned the wisdom of conducting protests while mass gatherings remain restricted.
Similar protests are planned for Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide – and have sparked similar concerns. In Victoria, chief health officer Brett Sutton has urged people not to attend Saturday’s planned rally.
Earlier, Mr Morrison said Australians who intended to march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against the treatment of Indigenous Australians in custody should find another way to express their feelings.
“Let’s respect those other Australians who have gone through such hardship,” he said.
“Let’s find a better way and another way to express these sentiments, rather than putting your own health at risk, the health of others at risk, the great gains we have been able to make as a country in recent months.
“Let’s exercise our liberties responsibly this weekend and encourage people not to attend, for those reasons and those reasons only.
“I say to them, don’t go.”
NSW Police Minister David Elliott said anyone who attended a protest during the coronavirus pandemic was “certifiably insane”.
“Anybody who goes to a mass gathering during a pandemic is certifiably insane; they are nuts,” he told ABC radio on Friday.
Melbourne ‘no different’ in hosting a solidarity rally
Victorian CHO Brett Sutton said people should not attend a similar rally planned for Melbourne’s CBD on Saturday.
Professor Sutton said the rally – for which 40,000 people have registered interest – “carries real risks for all Victorians, particularly those in vulnerable groups”.
But Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance organiser Meriki Onus said indigenous communities believed the cause trumped that concern.
“We think that this is an essential service to stand up for an Aboriginal person’s right to life, and also stand in solidarity with George Floyd and the more broader Black Lives Matter movement in the US,” she told ABC Melbourne on Friday.
Organisers would work with health services to distribute masks and hand sanitiser before and during the event.
They would “feel pretty bad” if the event led to a spike to COVID-19 cases, but Melbourne wasn’t alone in holding the rallies.
“We’re rising to the call to action. We’re marching like they marched in Paris, we’re marching like they marched in New Zealand. We’re marching like marched in both Perth, Sydney and Brisbane are marching tomorrow,” Ms Onus said.
“Melbourne will be no different to any other city in this world in marching for Black Lives Matter.”
Premier Daniel Andrews has acknowledged strong feelings on the issue, but has also asked people not to protest due to the coronavirus risks.
Victoria Police backed away from reports they would use discretion about fining people for breaches of COVID-19 restrictions at the march.
“Those who intentionally break the law will be held to account,” they said on Friday. “We have again contacted the organisers of the protest this morning to ensure this point is understood.”
Advice sought on legal status
Queensland’s Deputy Premier is seeking advice about the legality of the protest planned for Brisbane on Saturday.
Strict limits on public gatherings remain in place to prevent the spread of the virus in Queensland.
Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles said he understood some would want to march. But protesters must also understand their legal obligations.
“That’s something I’ll need to get some advice on today,” Dr Miles told ABC radio on Friday.
“Then we’ll make that advice public so people choosing to attend can know the regulations that apply to them.”
Organisers of the Brisbane protest say they also want to draw attention to alleged police brutality and oppression in Australia.
“There have been more than 400 First Nations people murdered in custody since the Royal Commission in Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its final report in 1997,” they say on Facebook.
“We see the government and police investigating police and then the police are never held accountable for their crimes.”
Go ahead in SA, WA
The South Australian police commissioner has granted permission for a Black Lives Matter protest to proceed in Adelaide.
Up to 4000 people are expected to gather in Victoria Square on Saturday before marching through the city.
Commissioner Grant Stevens said the exemption would allow the event to go ahead without breaching COVID-19 restrictions. Those taking part were urged to be mindful of their own health and the health of others.
In Perth, a second Black Lives Matter protest is planned for next Saturday, after about 2000 people rallied in the city this week.
Premier Mark McGowan said he was confident police would manage the protest appropriately.
“I know passions are high and I know people have strong views about these things,” he said.
“I just urge everyone to abide by the rules that are in place to protect public health.
“The police will exercise discretion and common sense and our police have worked far people better with people across communities than perhaps police forces in other parts of the world.”