The decision to allow enormous protests on the streets of Australian cities has led to a flurry of calls for all COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted completely.
Over 60,000 Black Lives Matter protesters flooded the streets of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide on Saturday afternoon, despite being urged not to by their governments.
Sydney protesters were controversially given the green light at the last minute, after organisers launched a successful appeal against the NSW Supreme Court’s decision of a day earlier which had ruled the protest illegal.
The Court of Criminal Appeal’s decision outraged many, who claimed it was insulting to the millions of Australians who have suffered but done the right thing over recent months.
They include business owners – some of who have been financially crippled forever – and families who have been unable to attend the funerals or weddings of loved ones.
Rules vary across Australia, but in NSW – where the court ruled protests legal – pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants can have no more than 50 people. Funerals and church gatherings have the same limit, while weddings can have no more than 20 guests.
Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Australian cities on Saturday afternoon as part of Black Lives Matter rallies (pictured is the protest in Sydney’s CBD), despite COVID-19 restrictions remaining in place
Long-time broadcaster Derryn Hinch pointed out that just a few weeks before the protests, Australians were banned from gathering on Anzac Day to remember our fallen soldiers
NSW Liberal politician Jason Falinski said that if restrictions did not apply to protests, they should also be lifted for ‘weddings, funerals and ANZAC Day’
Former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman called for all restrictions to be lifted after the protests were ruled legal
Former federal senator and long-time broadcaster Derryn Hinch pointed out that just a few weeks before the protests, Australians were banned from gathering on Anzac Day to remember our fallen soldiers.
‘You weren’t allowed to honour our fallen on Anzac Day but thousands can breach lockdown rules and social distancing in Melbourne and Sydney,’ Hinch tweeted.
While the protests – sparked by the death of American man George Floyd – received approval from the courts, they were opposed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australia’s leading health officials.
Brendan Murphy, the nation’s Chief Medical Officer, said while people have a right to protest, mass gatherings were ‘dangerous’ in the midst of a pandemic.
But the government’s finance minister Mathias Cormann went further, slamming those who protested as ‘selfish’ and ‘incredibly self-indulgent’.
‘It does impose unnecessary and unacceptable risk onto the community,’ Mr Cormann told Sky News on Sunday morning.
In the wake of the decision by the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, talkback lines were flooded with calls from irate listeners.
Many had been forced to shut down their businesses, unable to attend a loved ones’ funeral or had to forgo seeing elderly relatives for months because of a ban on visits to nursing homes.
Mark Levy, who was hosting the Saturday afternoon program on Sydney radio station 2GB, was at a loss to explain to listeners why the protest can go ahead without social distancing but crowds could not attend sports games.
Australians were not allowed to attend dawn services or marches on Anzac Day this year, instead they were urged to stand in their driveway with a candle to commemorate the fallen soldiers
Businesses – including cafes (pictured), restaurants and pubs – have been hit hard by the COVID-19 restrictions, with reduced patronage leaving some in a financial hole they will never recover from
‘I don’t have a problem with people protesting, but at the moment when we’re trying to get the economy back, we’re trying to get people back to work, people are being told to social distance,’ Levy said.
‘We can’t got to the football, we can’t go to pubs or clubs in big numbers, I don’t know how people are able to take to the streets in their thousands.’
NSW Liberal politician Jason Falinski echoed those sentiments on Twitter and said it was unfair to give the green light to the protests but not everything else.
‘Before you can have equality, you must have equality before the law. You can’t apply health orders to weddings, funerals, and ANZAC Day but not to protests’ Mr Falinski said.
‘Otherwise you can’t have equality.’
Former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said that after the protests received the go ahead, the continuing with any other restrictions was ‘illogical’.
In particular he pointed to the continued closure of Queensland’s borders which has been crippling for the state’s tourism operators.
‘If we can have this protest then there is no justification for the ongoing (illogical) restrictions on our lives,’ Mr Newman said.
Demonstrators at the Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney were standing in solidarity with U.S protesters, who have taken to the streets in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota
The federal government’s finance minister Mathias Cormann slammed those who protested as ‘selfish’ and ‘incredibly self-indulgent’
Sports fans are still not allowed to attend matches, despite thousands of protesters receiving the green light to ignore social distancing and hit the streets
‘I bet the protesters details weren’t recorded as would be required at any pub, club, restaurant or gym. And by the way, have some courage and open the border now.’
Queensland funeral director Wes Heritage told The Courier Mail he had watched on as grieving families struggled to come to terms with the fact only 10 people could attend the service for their loved ones.
Mr Heritage said any outbreak caused by mass gatherings would only make things even harded
‘We’ve nursed grieving families through the tough restrictions on funerals and now we’re really happy to where we’ve got to – we don’t need a backward step,’ he said.
‘We’ve been so strict and successful and would hate to see this protest create an issue that imposes further restrictions on families.’