City News

Police threaten to shut down protest

Mounted police follow Invasion Day protesters in Sydney in 2019. Photo: Allison Hore

By ALLISON HORE

Police have threatened to shut down an Invasion Day protest planned in Sydney tomorrow but organisers have reiterated their intention to go ahead with the rally.

On Facebook almost 7,000 people have registered their interest in attending tomorrow’s event at Djarrbarrgalli in Sydney, known as the Domain. But current NSW public health orders limit protests to 500 people. 

NSW police had earlier stated that the protest would not be authorised but protest organisers have not backed down. In response, Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing warned attendees that officers would be enforcing the public health orders. 

“Do not come in and be part of that public gathering, find another way to express your views and opinions,” he said.

“We are all aware that these are sensitive issues and they are very important issues to a lot of people but we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and we’re asking people to abide by those health orders.”

The penalties for breaching public health order could be up to six months’ jail or fines of up to $11,000. Police are also able to issue on the spot fines of $1000.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian echoed the commissioner’s concerns. She said she hoped people could find a way to express their concerns without mass gatherings which breach the public health orders.

“Our strong preference is that people stay home or use other methods to demonstrate their strength of feeling on issues,” she said.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard also suggested concurrent rallies be held in different locations within the limits

But Democracy is Essential, a group which defends the protest rights of people living in NSW, think smaller gatherings would not have the same impact a mass gathering like the previous invasion day rallies have had.

“We need to come together and fight back, this is the only way we can force urgent change,” they said.

The protest organisers maintain the event will be COVID-19 safe. They are encouraging attendees to wear masks and distance appropriately, as well as to register their attendance in advance to make contact tracing possible.  

With the park’s large capacity maintaining social distancing would not be an issue for a crowd the size of the size expected, organisers say. Although 6,900 people have registered their interest in attending the event through social media, organisers expect between 500 and 2,000 people to show up. This would be a far smaller crowd in the Domain than the 2019 Climate Strikewhich saw around 80,000 protesters gather in the space.

They said they would not be deterred by the police’s threats to issue fines to protesters, especially as earlier this month the NSW government allowed over 10,000 spectators to attend a cricket match at the SCG. 

“We refuse to accept that cricket is more important than protesting for Black Lives, or for the environment, or for workers rights or any number of other causes for that matter,” said Democracy is Essential.

“The protest tomorrow is going ahead despite the threats. Bring your mask and plenty of water, your friends and family, and your determination to fight for a better world!”

Greens MLC David Shoebridge called the threats to shut down the protest “the same old racism all over again”.

There has not been a COVID-19 case which is confirmed to have been transmitted during any of the previous mass protests across Sydney.

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