Scott Morrison has drawn a parallel between Anzac Day commemorations and planned Black Lives Matter marches planned for this weekend in a powerful appeal for Australians to stay home.
The prime minister encouraged people to express their views on the matter, but urged them to show consideration for the difficult sacrifices made so far in fighting the coronavirus crisis.
He asked that Australians show respect for people “who couldn't attend the funeral of a family member or couldn't see a loved one in a nursing home or a veteran who couldn't remember their fallen colleagues by attending a war memorial service on Anzac Day”.
“We all found a way on Anzac Day to thank those who gave us our liberty and not gather in large numbers,” he said a press conference on Friday.
“And we stood on the end of our driveways and we held up a light on that dawn in our windows or our balconies and we found a way to celebrate those who gave us our liberty,” he told reporters.
“Let's not misuse that liberty. Let's respect it. Let's respect other Australians, and let's say to those who had the absolute agony of not being able to say goodbye to a loved one, let's thank them by showing responsibility this weekend.”
While he did not wish to override direction given by state premiers, he said advice handed down by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee was that it was not safe to attend protests.
“This isn't about issues regarding people's ability to express themselves and engage in protest activity, we all respect that. But let's respect those other Australians who have gone through such hardship,” he said.
“Rather than putting your own health at risk, the health of others at risk, the great gains we have been able to make as a country in recent months, and let's not forget the terrible economic consequences of that as well, let's not put that at risk, let's exercise our liberties responsibly.”
Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton on Friday also advised people not to attend the protest, claiming it was not the time to be at a mass gathering.
Professor Sutton acknowledged transmission levels in the state were at extremely low levels, but noted the chances of the virus spreading were higher in a crowd.
“There are other ways to express your passion and feelings and protests that don't involve coming together, you know, in a setting that provides a public health risk,” Prof Sutton said.
“I understand the passions that people will have in relation to this and the desire to protest, but my focus has always been on the health and wellbeing of people and that includes for the protesters themselves.”
The protests are calling for an end to Aboriginal deaths in custody and could involve thousands gathering in mass crowds.
Organisers are doing what they can to help minimise health risks and are working with health services to distribute masks and hand sanitiser before and during the event.
They have also encouraged protesters to self quarantine for a few weeks afterwards.
NSW Police to take legal action against protests
A proposed Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney this weekend will be legally challenged by NSW Police after a chorus of criticism from federal and state frontbenchers.
The challenge will take place at the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon, with NSW Police seeking to have the protests deemed illegal.
"All of us have given up so much and worked so hard to make sure we get on top of the virus," Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Friday.
Ms Berejiklian said the protest initially proposed by the Black Lives Matter organisers was far smaller than that which was likely to occur on Saturday.
She also said protesters could not guarantee social distancing protocols would be followed.
"If people had made the decision to express their views strongly in a COVID-19 safe way, which is the comments we made yesterday and the comments the day before, that would have been acceptable within the health orders but that is not the case," Ms Berejiklian said.
The protest on Saturday in Sydney's CBD is expected to attract hundreds of people.
"Is (Premier Berejiklian) really giving her approval for a mass rally with potentially thousands of participants, when the maximum number of people allowed to visit a private home remains just five," Opposition Leader Jodi McKay told The Daily Telegraph on Friday.
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