An attempt to stop tomorrow's Black Lives Matter protest march through the streets of Sydney by the New South Wales Police has been successful after a late afternoon hearing at the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Justice Desmond Fagan said in his ruling that public health concerns due to COVID-19 were too great a risk for the protest, which is set to have more than five thousand attendees.
He said that social distancing has been key in limiting the spread of the Coronavirus and that allowing the protest at this time is "an unreasonable proposition".
But Justice Fagan added that he saw no "special risk of violence" in the planned gathering, which NSW police submitted as part of its injunction application to the court.
It was argued that the size of the gathering would exceed the projected numbers of an initial application made to council to hold the rally, which was later amended, prompting concerns over breaches of the state's COVID-19-related health orders.
In submission for the protest organisers, Barrister Emmanuel Kerkyasharian outlined the importance of conducting the protest while others were taking place across the world, and said that this is an issue “close to their hearts”.
Organiser for the rally, Raul Bassi, first submitted an application on May 28, but after monitoring increasing public interest in attending the demonstration on social media, the NSW Police then drafted an amended notice form and sent it to the protestors to sign.
It was amended on Thursday to reflect a public gathering of 5000 people at Sydney's Town Hall.
As part of the organisation of the rally, thousands of face masks were ordered as well as hundreds of bottles of hand sanitiser. Marshalls were also allocated to help enforce social distancing.
While giving evidence State Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said that while there was a low level of community transmission of the Coronavirus in New South Wales, there is "a possibility we are missing cases in the community and there are undiagnosed cases."
Dr Chant also stated she was unaware that the government agreed to allow the National Rugby League to have 50 people in the crowd from next weekend, adding that she has not given health advice in regards to loosening restrictions to allow people to sit in stadiums for matches.
Earlier, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian backed the move to block the protest by police, urging people to express their views in other ways.
State police minister David Elliot and the NSW treasurer Dominic Perrotet also opposed the planned demonstration earlier on Friday.
Mr Elliot said people who planned to attend the protest march were "nuts" and "not of sound mind".
Professor Marcia Langton, who assisted in writing the final report following the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, condemned those comments.
"How dare he. How dare he. And you know, he has cast us as being insane," she told ABC News on Friday afternoon.
"Well, here is some news for you, mate - murdering black people is what is insane. That's what's insane, and that it continues and that during the week an Aboriginal child, a 16-year-old was slammed to the ground by a NSW Police officer and has not been charged with assault – that's insane. It is almost, I have got to say this feels like a call for open season for the cops to come after us."
Prof Langton also said that she would be attending the Melbourne rally despite Coronavirus safety concerns.
"I'm an at-risk person. I'm over the age of 50 ... I'll wear a mask. I'll follow the public hygiene rules ... but it is a risk I personally think is worth taking," she said.
"[The report] was tabled in 1991 and hundreds of Aboriginal people have died in custody since and the response from Australian governments has been completely inadequate and I will remind the Prime Minister that the last Minister for Indigenous Affairs refused to put 'reduce the Aboriginal incarceration rates' as a national priority."
'We are going to march'
At a media conference outside the court on Friday afternoon Letona Dungay, the mother of 26-year-old Dunghutti man David Dungay Jnr who died in Sydney's Long Bay Jail in 2015, said the demonstration would go ahead irrespective of the court's decision.
"We are not going to stop. We are going to march. We don't care what any acts of law tells us what to do because those acts and laws are killing us," she said.
"Racism still exists here, and Morrison has got the cheek to say that there is bloody none. Well, no way. There is a lot of racism here and that's what killed my son."
Indigenous Social Justice Association representative Faith Black told media that it was important to use the current spotlight on worldwide racial injustice to raise greater awareness about Aboriginal deaths in custody.
"We wont stop. We want people to look at us, hear us, and stand with us," said Ms Black.
Gadigal-Dharawal-Bidjigal Elder Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor and her daughter Nadeena also spoke outside the court, stressing the importance of providing a space for community to come together in support of one another.
"We have a right to gather on our Country. We have a right to speak," said Ms Dixon-Grovenor.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said that the rally organisers had workshopped social distancing protocols with NSW Police in initially obtaining the permit to hold the demonstration.
The protocols included "a significant number of marshals", said Mr Shoebridge, to ensure there was social distancing spread throughout the crowd, as well as the ready availability of hand-sanitiser and masks.
The organisers also worked with police to move the protest from an initial small venue to a significantly larger one at Sydney's Town Hall - one of the largest public spaces to actively allow for the social distancing in the city.
"The organisers have been aware that we are in a pandemic . They've been aware and taking the best measures possible to ensure the rally can be as safe as possible," he said.
Big turn out
In an earlier statement, the NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said she supported a police application to the court to stop the rally from going ahead.
Ms Berejiklian said that it had become clear to NSW Police that the size of the gathering would exceed the projected numbers of the initial application made to council to hold the rally.
"The police commissioner and I discussed the fact that the police commissioner would apply to the supreme court to have the intended protest tomorrow that was intended to go ahead deemed illegal," said Ms Berejiklian.
The NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller said the application for an injunction was lodged after monitoring increasing public interest in attending the demonstration on social media.
"As of this morning, [the numbers] had escalated to a potentially 10,000 protestors turning up and the organiser himself admitted that he couldn't ensure that the protestors could adhere to his form, or the current health orders," Mr Fuller said.
The Sydney demonstration follows several heavily attended rallies and vigils already held in cities and regional towns around Australia – including Perth, Brisbane and Canberra.
It also follows a host of international demonstrations of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the death of African American man, George Floyd close to a fortnight ago.
Similar demonstrations are planned over the weekend in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Alice Springs, Newcastle and elsewhere around the country.
In Victoria, the state's deputy police commissioner Shane Patton on Friday confirmed the organisers of Melbourne's planned rally would be fined for breaching COVID-19 health orders if more than 20 people turned up at the rally.
In South Australia, police commissioner Grant Stevens announced that he would allow a demonstration to proceed in Adelaide.
"We have given due consideration to the circumstances that have resulted in this rally being organised, and we’ve also taken into account advice from the Chief public health officer," said Mr Stevens in a written statement on Friday.
"We have approved the gathering to occur from 12 o’clock tomorrow afternoon in Victoria Square and we are also contemplating that there may be a march associated with that particular event.
"Whilst the exemption being provided allows for the gathering to exceed the numbers which are defined in the direction, we are expecting that people will still buy by the social distancing rules and insure proper hygiene practices are in place."