Organisers of a protest deemed illegal have vowed to press ahead with the event today despite the virus pandemic.
Organisers of a protest deemed illegal have vowed to press ahead with the event today despite the virus pandemic.

Protest organisers vow to defy police

Refugee activists have vowed to push ahead with a planned protest this weekend despite the Supreme Court prohibiting the event amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justice Michael Walton on Thursday night granted a NSW Police application for the rally to be declared a prohibited public gathering.

The rally, which is being organised by the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), is scheduled to take place at Sydney's Town Hall on Saturday afternoon.

RAC organiser James Supple told the court they were expecting a modest crowd of about 150 to 200 and that it could be held while observing social distancing rules.

But Justice Walton accepted arguments put forward by Lachlan Gyles SC, acting for NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, who cited health concerns.

Justice Walton said that public health risks of protests did not "outweigh the rights of public assembly and free speech".

However Mr Supple said the group was still planning to hold the rally and urged anyone attending to observe social distancing measures and health guidelines.

"We'll still be holding an event this Saturday, urging people to participate," Mr Supple said outside court.

"As the court said, it doesn't actually make it illegal to come to a protest, it just gives the police more powers.

"We'll be doing everything in our power to ensure it's a safe gathering and urging people to show some safety concern for the coronavirus measures.

Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said the event was unauthorised because police had not been formally notified.

"We all appreciate the sensitivities around (the BLM cause) and global events have left an impression on all of us, but I ask people not to attend tomorrow night's rally," Mr Willing said on Thursday.

Leetona Dungay, left, whose son David Dungay Jr died in Sydney's Long Bay jail in 2015, takes part in the Black Lives Matter last weekend in Sydney. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
Leetona Dungay, left, whose son David Dungay Jr died in Sydney's Long Bay jail in 2015, takes part in the Black Lives Matter last weekend in Sydney. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Mr Willing said the police force would deploy "significant resources" to enforce the existing COVID-19 health order which bans mass gatherings.

People could be moved on and potentially arrested if they choose to attend Friday's event, the assistant commissioner said.

"We have shown a tempered and measured approach when it comes to the issuing of infringements in relation to the health orders to date," he said.

"That won't change."

Mr Willing said there were usually 800 protests in Sydney each year but it simply wasn't safe to hold such gatherings during a pandemic.

About 20,000 people attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Sydney last Saturday after the Court of Appeal deemed it lawful less than 15 minutes before it began.

Another protest is planned for today but police have warned people not to attend. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
Another protest is planned for today but police have warned people not to attend. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Doherty Institute epidemiology director Professor Jodie McVernon is concerned large crowds have taken to the streets.

"Clearly there's a risk of transmission at gatherings of this kind," Prof McVernon said.

"We were pleased to see people taking individual risk mitigations and trying to keep distancing, but in a crowd of that size, that's very challenging.

"We are still a highly susceptible population."

NSW has not confirmed a community-derived COVID-19 case in two weeks. No new cases were reported in the state yesterday and no one is in intensive care. The total number of cases recorded in NSW sits at 3117.

"Do not risk the health and safety of others in order to express a view," Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

"We can all do that once the threat of the pandemic is over."

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said people attending today's rally could be issued $1000 fines.

"We know that the organisers can't control the numbers, we know they can't meet the health obligations that are in place for everyone else," Mr Fuller told 2GB radio.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said previous BLM protests across Australia had likely delayed the lifting of restrictions on funeral attendances. A maximum of 50 mourners are currently permitted at a funeral in NSW.

Originally published as Protest organisers vow to defy police



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