By TRAVIS DE JONK
Just days before it is set to take place, NSW Police have dropped a bombshell on Pride In Protest, announcing their intention to oppose the community led Mardi Gras march on Oxford Street this Saturday, despite Covid-19 restrictions easing across NSW and no community transmission for more than 40 days.
In a surprise move, NSW Police have exercised their discretionary powers to formally cap the protest at 500 people on the grounds of alleged Covid-19 health concerns, despite the NSW Government allowing protestor numbers of up to 3000 in December 2020.
Pride In Protest say they expect between 900 and 2000 people to attend their rally scheduled for 2pm Saturday, 6 March – well below numbers seen at numerous other protests over the past 12 months.
At least thirteen large protests have taken place in NSW over the past twelve months, including the Black Lives Matter protests, which drew approximately 50,000 people, and the 8000-strong Australia Day/Invasion Day protests.
More disturbingly, thousands of Covid ‘anti-vaxxer’ protesters were recently allowed to march, in a move Pride In Protest say posed real health risks.
Furthermore, despite the various protests around the state since the pandemic began, not one case of Covid-19 has been attributed to the protest actions.
Meanwhile, the official Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade will be allowed to go ahead at the Sydney Cricket Ground later that same day, just four hours after the planned Pride in Protest event, with over 40,000 spectators and 5000 parade participants, in a move that indicates inconsistencies in the use of ‘discretionary powers’ by NSW Police.
Pride In Protest scheduled a media conference on Tuesday to get their side of the story across and fight for their right to peacefully and safely protest. Among the speakers was Evan Van Tiel – one of the Pride in Protest organisers who could be financially liable should court proceedings over the matter fail.
“We’ve done everything we can. We’ve submitted our ‘Notice of Intention’ and our ‘Covid Safe Plan’ back in January … we’ve met the same requirements that have been approved for over 13 rallies thus far during the Covid period,” said Van Tiel.
“This is a decision that is entirely in the hands of the police. It will be the police deciding if you are permitted to march. It will be the police deciding that they want to take the community through court. It will be the police deciding that they want to be against the community as they were back in 1978 … as they are everyday of black deaths in custody of the police. It will be the police deciding whether or not we will have broken arms when we protest.”
Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong, was present at the media conference, supporting the march and speaking out against NSW Police.
“The organisers of this protest aren’t ‘newbies’ – they’ve been doing this for a while and they know what they are doing. They’ve been previously involved in organising recent protests that have occurred safely during the Covid crisis and this occasion is no different. The only thing that is different is the NSW Police’s position,” said Leong.
“The police have the power to work constructively and collaboratively with organisers to deliver this event in a way that keeps everybody safe, but that is not what they have done. They’ve had since January to do this, but instead NSW Police have chosen to to use their power to blatantly bully and intimidate organisers. They waited till the 11th hour and implemented this deliberately disruptive, heavy-handed approach designed to stop this protest.”
Leong is among politicians from all sides of politics who have been actively lobbying NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and the NSW Government to come up with Covid-safe protests policy.
Said Leong: “You would expect NSW Police … the Surry Hills Police Command, who proudly fly the rainbow flag … they proudly wear purple on Wear It Purple Day, to step up to the plate and show some commitment [to LGBTQI+ people] by working with community. [Especially] now we are in a very special place in NSW with long periods of no community transmissions of Covid, and in an even better place realistically to deliver such policy.”
Pride in Protest say their protest march on Oxford Street has been planned using the latest public health advice and information, and will include the gamut of Covid-19 safety measures including pre-registrations, social distancing, wearing of masks (enforced by march marshalls) and widespread availability of hand sanitiser.
George Newhouse from the National Justice Project, who is representing Pride In Protest in court proceedings, said: “The NSW Government should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. There is a right in this country to politically protest. What you’re seeing right now is discrimination on the right to protest. It’s reprehensible. You can go to any cinema right now and you can have a full house, you can go to football and there’s no problem … but the NSW police don’t want this protest of 900-plus people to go ahead and they are being empowered by the Minister for Health and the Berejiklian Government.”
Pride In Protest say they are going ahead with their march on Saaturday regardless. Jenny Leong says she will be there marching with them, adding: “Anyone who is working against this march is only advocating to make this protest – which will go ahead regardless – more unsafe for everyone involved.”
A NSW Supreme Court hearing on the matter will take place at 10am tomorrow (Friday, 5 March).