By ALLISON HORE
Democracy campaigners are celebrating after NSW Health announced changes to restrictions on protests.
Despite not a single documented case of coronavirus transmission occurring at a protest in Australia, COVID-19 health and safety orders had been used to shut down a number of protests in Sydney. But changes to the public health orders will allow some protests to go ahead.
Coming into effect on Thursday this week, the new restrictions allow for up to 500 protesters to gather, or one person per four square metres of space if that amount is fewer than 500. Previously, only 20 people were allowed to gather and separate groups of 20 identified as being in the same place for one “common purpose” were classed as one group.
In order for rallies to be given the green light, protest organisers will need to complete a detailed COVID-19 safety plan including estimates in attendee numbers, plans for hygiene and physical distancing and transport arrangements.
Protest organisers are encouraged to have strategies in place to limit mingling before and after the rally and to organise seated protests, where practical, so that distancing can be maintained.
This comes after months of campaigning by activists, including the “Democracy is Essential” campaign. They slammed the restrictions on protests as “hypocritical” and said the heavy-handed policing of protests in the city was a “scare tactic” rather than something done out of concern for health and safety.
Eleanor Morley, one of the founders of Democracy is Essential, told City Hub that the announcement was “a really big win for the right to protest campaign” and a “clear concession to the defiant protests of the past few months”.
“The concession from the NSW government confirms that the protests around educational cuts, LGBTI rights and Black Lives Matter were never a serious health danger and that the restrictions upon them are purely political,” wrote Democracy is Essential on a Facebook post.
But Eleanor noted the limit of 500 meant the changes are not “a complete victory” considering the restrictions allow for 40,000 attendees at a sports match.
“We’ll continue to fight to drop all restrictions on protests and to drop the $50,000 worth of fines that have been handed to protesters while celebrating today’s victory,” she said.