Australian authorities look to be in for a tough Saturday as Black Lives Matter protest organisers say they will go ahead despite opposition from the courts, police, health authorities and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Officials are citing concerns that large-scale gatherings will create more coronavirus infections as the chief reason for opposing gatherings in various cities. But protest leaders and their supporters say it is merely a convenient excuse and an abuse of power.
Gathering is illegal says NSW Supreme Court
In NSW, the Supreme Court ruled in a late-night judgement on Friday, 5 June that any such gathering would be illegal. “For the court to authorise (the protest) would amount to a defiance of orders made by the government,” Justice Desmond Fagan said.
In their evidence to the court, organisers said they could socially distance and provide hand sanitiser to attendees. However, Justice Fagan said those measures were not sufficient to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.
Speaking after the judgement, organisers said they would proceed anyway. NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, who was a witness in court, said he will attend on Saturday and urged social distancing for all those who participate.
See a tweet here from Guardian Australia journalist Elias Visontay:
Police in NSW have responded by saying there will be a “significant” presence at Saturday’s rally. “Police will be out in numbers to enforce that decision,” assistant commissioner Michael Willing warned.
Barrister Greg Barns SC, who is an adviser to the Australian Assange campaign, called the court decision an “abuse of COVID powers” and “dangerous in a democracy.
See Greg Barnes tweet here:
An historic, global moment says WAR
Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), an activist group, said the protests planned for Melbourne and Brisbane were still going ahead.
“This is a historic, global moment,” it said in a Facebook statement. “We do not have capacity to stop this moment – it is bigger than people organising the protest. This is a global, organic movement.”
But WAR stressed the need for coronavirus-related health measures. “Within your group of 20 ensure you are 1.5 metres apart. Ensure there is distance between you and the next group of 20,” it said.
Police threaten fines for Melbourne organisers
In Melbourne, organisers of the Black Lives Matter rally could face police fines as authorities continue to ask protesters not to attend the civil rights protest.
Thousands of protesters are expected at the rally on Saturday, and Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton says if that happens each organiser will be fined $1 651 because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“In the exercise of police discretion, those who intentionally break the law will be held to account,” the Victorian police statement said.