Melbourne refugee protesters fined $43,000 for breaching coronavirus rules

Police question a protester outside the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne. Source: Video

Victoria Police has arrested one man and fined 26 others in excess of $40,000 for breaching a coronavirus stay at home order after a car cavalcade protest called for the release of refugees in Melbourne.

Victoria Police has arrested one refugee advocate and fined dozens of others a total of $43,000 for breaching coronavirus stay at home orders by conducting a protest outside a Melbourne hotel housing refugees and asylum seekers.

The protesters on Friday formed a car motorcade to protest the situation faced by the men inside the Mantra Hotel in the northern Melbourne suburb of Preston, where they say the men are in danger of contracting COVID-19.

The men inside the hotel have themselves been protesting their crowded conditions and what they say is a lack of personal hygiene supplies, such as hand sanitiser.

Protest organisers said the demonstration was done in cars so that all protesters maintained their required social distance at all times.

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Refugee activists in Melbourne fined for breaching coronavirus social distancing rules
Refugee activists in Melbourne fined for breaching coronavirus social distancing rules

The Refugee Action Collective’s Lucy Honan was one of those issued a fine by Victoria Police for participating in the protest.

"We were told that we had breached the stay at home direction. We said we are there for compassionate reasons. Compassion and care is one of the reasons you can leave the house," she said.

"It's completely egregious and hypocritical. You have people inside the detention centre unable to physically distance, that's why we were there, and instead of using those health powers to agitate for their freedom, the [Premier Daniel] Andrews government has used police to quash protests," Ms Honan said. 

Victoria Police told SBS News 26 demonstrators were fined for failing to comply with the chief health officer's orders, while three were issued with traffic infringement notices. 

"While Victoria Police respects the public's right to protest, these are extraordinary times and the health and safety of every Victorian needs to be our number one priority at this time," a police spokesperson said.

Protest organiser Chris Breen was also arrested at his home prior to the protest beginning. He was charged with incitement and is due to face court in August.  

Refugees and asylum seekers inside the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne.
Refugees and asylum seekers inside the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne.
Video

He told SBS News he was taken to the Preston police station where he spent nine hours in custody while police obtained a warrant to seize his phone and home computers.

"It's absurd. People can drive to Bunnings, to get a haircut, to go to your holiday house in Victoria, but we aren’t allowed to drive around the block to highlight the deadly conditions for refugees," Mr Breen said.

"Health rules around coronavirus can't be used to shut down safe protests," he added.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus. 

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