Police and health authorities in NSW have made a last-minute plea for people not to attend a Sydney Invasion Day protest planned for Tuesday, saying those who attend face fines and imprisonment.
Over 6,000 people have clicked “attending” on social media for the rally in Sydney to mark “Invasion Day” on 26 January.
Current Sydney coronavirus restrictions set outdoor gathering limits to a maximum of 500 people and NSW Police have promised to enforce the restrictions.
“Do not come in and be part of that public gathering. Find another way to express your views and opinions,” NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing 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.”
Breaches of public health orders can result in up to six months’ jail or fines of up to $11,000.
Police are also able to issue on-the-spot-fines from $1,000.
Organisers of the rally in Sydney have vowed to go ahead despite the police warnings and say their event would be COVID-safe. They say the government has stonewalled their efforts to agree on a safety plan.
“Organisers have a detailed COVID-safety plan that they have given the NSW government. But there has been no response from the NSW government, no response from NSW Health, no response from the NSW Police other than the threats of violence through the police minister,” Greens MP David Shoebridge said on Monday afternoon.
Mr Shoebridge has published the six-page plan, which was sent to Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Friday.
He said in a statement that it was “every bit as stringent” as the plan governing the recent Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground and “more detailed than that used by shopping malls in NSW”.
The plan includes compulsory mask wearing, over 85 marshals, pre-registration by QR code, hand sanitiser and social distancing.
Mr Shoebridge said it would be a “political crime” not to grant an exemption to the rally when the government has suggested it will lift restrictions later this week.
Earlier on Monday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged people to express their opinions without mass gatherings.
“Our strong preference is that people stay home or use other methods to demonstrate their strength of feeling on issues,” she said.
“The police will be there to make sure the health orders are preserved.”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard labelled the planned rally as “problematic” and implored protesters to convene in groups of 500, rather than in one large mass.
Police said a “highly visible and mobile” operation would be in place on Tuesday for outdoor revellers.
Sydney’s Circular Quay will be closed to the public by 6pm on Tuesday, with exemptions for those with bookings at restaurant or other venues.
NSW residents are being told to prepare for sweltering conditions with temperatures of up to 40C forecast.
Around the country
Large rallies to mark “Invasion Day” are set to be held in major cities throughout Australia on Tuesday.
Protests are scheduled to be held in Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Darwin, Hobart and Perth.
In Melbourne, over 3,500 people clicked “attending” on a Facebook event for the rally.
Victorian protest organisers said the crowd would be split into groups of 100 people, the current outdoor gathering limit in the state, and that everyone would have to wear a face mask.
But that didn’t stop Premier Daniel Andrews from urging people not to attend, despite the streak of zero community coronavirus cases recorded in recent weeks.
“This will be a different Australia Day; we’re in the midst of a global pandemic,” Mr Andrews said.
“It’s no time to be protesting, it just isn’t. We’ve built something precious and unique, Victorians have, through their sacrifice and their commitment and their compassion for each other and we have to safeguard that,” he added.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus
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