A former Australian state premier has claimed there is “no justification” for ongoing coronavirus restrictions after thousands attended Black Lives Matter rallies on Saturday.
Questions have been raised over the future of coronavirus restrictions after tens of thousands of people gathered at Black Lives Matter rallies across the country on Saturday.
Most protesters wore face masks and used hand sanitiser as they marched in protest of police brutality in Australia and the United States.
But social distancing proved difficult, with many forced to huddle shoulder-to-shoulder as crowds swelled in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.
“If we can have this protest then there is no justification for the ongoing (illogical) restrictions on our lives,” former Queensland premier Campbell Newman tweeted on Saturday, along with an aerial view of the huge protest in Brisbane.
“I bet the protesters’ details weren't recorded as would be required at any pub, club, restaurant or gym,” he added.
But earlier this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt warned people not to attend the protests, saying the pandemic was far from over.
“We respect deeply people’s right to express themselves. It’s fundamental to who we are. We respect the compassion behind those concerns, but we say at this moment in time there is a better way,” Mr Hunt said.
“There’s always a time for protests, but it’s not at this moment, not in a mass gathering form.
“The means of coming together and risking the spread of COVID-19 is something we say to people: please think again, please do not do this, exercise your compassion, express yourself, but do it in a way that is safe, sound and respectful of our most vulnerable Australians.”
In Victoria, police said they were concerned that such a large gathering had occurred in Melbourne “without regard” for the need to social distance.
Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said the force would now consider what action to take “in relation to the organisation and conduct of this unlawful gathering”.
Officers have already said the organisers of the rally – the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) – will be fined $1652 each for breaching the directions of the chief health officer.
Wurundjeri woman Mandy Nicholson, who spoke at the protest, said it was ridiculous to fine people for fighting injustice and she would contest a fine if she received one.
“It’s a democratic right to protest,” she told AAP. “We also had police marching with us and talking with us.
“It was very peaceful and a life-changing event for not only black people but everyone.”
Despite the rally being unlawful, police said they were generally pleased with the public’s behaviour and reported no arrests.
The protest in Sydney was also described as “peaceful” with just three men arrested before it began.
About 20,000 people gathered in the city’s CBD after the Court of Appeal declared the rally an authorised public assembly.
The decision, overturning a Supreme Court ruling on Friday night, gave protesters immunity from arrest for blocking roads along the planned route from Town Hall to Belmore Park.