Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is urging people not to attend a Melbourne protest against Aboriginal deaths in custody, even if they won’t be stung with coronavirus fines.
Thousands of people are expected to attend the rally on Saturday outside Victoria’s Parliament House.
It has been organised by the Aboriginal community to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Thousands of people have expressed an interest in the march and the turnout could rival the annual Invasion Day rally, which organisers claim attracted a crowd of about 80,000 earlier in 2020.
Ongoing rallies across the US have taken issue with police violence against black Americans, after unarmed black man George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25.
Victoria Police have said it won’t be feasible to arrest or fine people for breaking COVID-19 rules at the Melbourne protest.
But Mr Andrews said that did not mean restrictions should not be followed.
“They’re not there just for enforcement purposes, they’re not there to raise revenue. They’re there to keep people safe,” he said on Thursday.
“I’m not going to the protest. I would suggest to other people they shouldn’t go to the protest either.
“I understand the depth of feeling on this issue, but I might make the point this way: enough people have been hurt.
“Let’s not do anything on the weekend that compromises safety, let’s not do anything on the weekend that potentially spreads the virus.”
It's time to talk less and listen more.
These words are from Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, a proud Bangerang/Wiradjuri woman, & Marcus Stewart, a Taungurung Traditional Owner. Together, they chair @firstpeoplesvic.
Black lives matter. And black voices must be heard. pic.twitter.com/n3rcdn9AiO
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) June 3, 2020
Mr Andrew said police would be quick to act if the protest got out of control.
“If it’s not peaceful, then it is not a protest,” he said outside parliament on Wednesday.
“Victoria Police will not hesitate to maintain order and will not tolerate violence.”
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has also urged people to stay away on Saturday.
She noted the vulnerability of Aboriginal people, particularly those aged older than 50.
“Black lives do matter. We know that Aboriginal people are more susceptible to becoming severely ill if they contract coronavirus, and I urge them to heed the advice of the chief health officer to follow all of the health advice, and that is to stay home,” she said.
On Wednesday, Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said Victoria Police understood and acknowledged “the anger and frustration of the events taking place overseas”.
“We absolutely understand the sentiment and the anger that lies behind that and we are very keen to support the community in giving a voice to their concerns,” he said.
But he conceded he would prefer the protest to be postponed and said it was “not a licence to break the law”.
“Those directions and that advice [from the chief health officer] stands,” he said.
He said police, including on horses, would ensure protesters were complying with public health advice, but would exercise discretion on fines.
Under directives from chief health officer Brett Sutton that came into affect on June 1, Victorians can gather outside in groups of only up to 20 people, including household members.
“We would prefer this protest occurred at another time, at a time when on advice from the chief health officer we’re told it would be safe for such a mass gathering to occur,” Assistant Commissioner Cornelius said.
Opposition police spokesman David Southwick said it was “astonishing” Mr Andrews was allowing police not to fine protesters, given virus restrictions had prevented some people from attending funerals of loved ones.
“The rule book is out the window on Saturday because Daniel Andrews will not show consistency on this matter,” he said.
“How can anyone think this is fair?”
Upper house Liberal MP David Davis said Western Australia had been on top of the Spanish flu in 1919 before a peace rally celebrating the end of World War I sparked a spike in cases and deaths.
“Having large, mass rallies is a very dangerous matter at this point in time,” he said.