Authorities have issued stern Covid warnings to the public ahead of planned protests on Australia Day, requesting the thousands of people who have registered interest to think twice before attending.
More than 6000 people have indicated they plan to attend an “Invasion Day” rally at The Domain in the Sydney CBD, with mass gatherings also planned in Melbourne, Canberra, Darwin, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart.
“Do not come in and be part of that public gathering, find another way to express your views and opinions,” NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said on Monday.
“We are all aware that these are sensitive issues and they are very important issues to a lot of people but we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and we're asking people to abide by those health orders.”
Outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people are a breach of coronavirus public health orders, and rule flouters can be slapped with up to six months' jail or be fined up to $11,000.
Police can also issue $1000 fines on-the-spot.
“We do not want to get to that point,” Mr Willing said.
NSW Police told Yahoo News Australia organisers of the protest had not submitted an application to host a public assembly.
While the protest will be legally unauthorised, police have no power to stop it from going ahead.
“The NSW Police Force recognise the rights of individuals and groups to exercise their rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, however, our first priority is – and always will be – the safety of the community,” a statement read.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian requested that people in NSW commemorate the day at home and avoid gathering in large numbers outdoors.
“The health orders are there to keep everybody safe, and I ask everybody to respect those public health orders. The police will be there to make sure those health orders will be reserved,” she told reporters.
“If you break the rules, if you don’t respect the health orders, there are penalties in place. I don’t want to see that happen, I have faith and confidence that cool heads will prevail.
“I appreciate the strength of feeling in the community about those matters, but everybody has to respect the health orders.”
Police will be out in force to monitor gatherings across the state “to ensure a safe and secure environment for everyone”.
“People may be marking the day differently, but as with any major event, police will still be out and about across the state focusing on public safety, alcohol-related crime and anti-social behaviour,” Mr Willing said.
“Police aren’t here to disrupt any plans, but we do have the power to ensure that the community is adhering to the current public health orders, including restrictions on gathering and movement and the wearing of mandatory face coverings in certain settings.”
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