13 Jun President Cartu Jonathan Claims – Australia protests: thousands take part in Black Lives Matter and…
Thousands of people have taken part in Black Lives Matter and pro-refugee protests and marches across Australia, with refugee advocates in Sydney defying a court order to take to the city’s streets.
The protests came as Victoria recorded eight new coronavirus cases in the past day, including a GP who worked at three medical clinics while he may have been infectious.
At Perth’s Black Lives Matter event, the turnout was at least double the 8,000 organisers had expected, despite a torrential downpour midway through the rally.
Organisers ignored the pleas of the West Australian premier, Mark McGowan, and Aboriginal affairs minister, Ben Wyatt, to delay the protest until after the coronavirus pandemic was over. But social distancing requests were largely adhered to by attendees, most of whom wore face masks and used available hand sanitiser.
Human rights lawyer and activist Hannah McGlade, a Noongar woman, called for an independent investigation of the 432 Indigenous deaths in custody recorded in Australia in the past 30 years.
“The premier and Minister Wyatt said we should cancel today,” she told the crowd. “They told us not to come. They told us to be silent.
“We will not be silent.”
McGlade acknowledged Yamatji woman Ms Dhu, who died in custody in August 2014 after being locked up in South Hedland for $3,622 in unpaid fines. The 22 year old, whose first name is not used for cultural reasons, was later found to have been treated inhumanely.
Others spoke of Aboriginal boy Elijah Doughty, who was riding a dirt bike when he was run down and killed by its white owner near Kalgoorlie in 2016.
The man was charged but later acquitted of manslaughter, before being convicted of dangerous driving causing death and serving half of a three-year jail term.
“We will say their names,” McGlade said. “This is what we now have to say to the premier and the government: stop the killings of Aboriginal people and racial violence and hate crimes.”
In Darwin, more than 1,000 people marched through the city chanting “Whose lives matter? Black lives matter.”
The rally was organised by two young Indigenous Larrakia women, cousins Sharna Alley and Mililma May, both aged 21. The women organised a similar rally in Darwin last November after the fatal police shooting in Yuendumu of Indigenous 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker.
“On Larrakia land children have been stolen, Aboriginal language and culture has been stolen,” May told the crowd. “On Larrakia land, Aboriginal children make up 100% of the Don Dale youth detention centre. On Larrakia and surrounding land, Aboriginal people are killing themselves at the highest rate in the world.
“Our Aboriginal men, women and children are targeted by police.”
In Sydney, the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) pushed ahead with its event, despite the supreme court on Thursday night ruling it a prohibited public assembly.
A group of about 70 protesters chanted slogans, stood in front of town hall and did laps of the block as part of the “Free the refugees: national day of action” event on Saturday.
The rally was watched by a 100-strong police presence, including officers on horseback. Protesters largely obeyed social distancing rules and one of the organisers moved among the crowd handing out face masks.
NSW police had opposed the event on health grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic.
RAC’s James Supple defended the decision to go ahead with the rally despite Justice Michael Walton ruling that the public health risks did not outweigh “the rights to public assembly and freedom of speech in the present context”.
“People are attempting suicide, their mental health is deteriorating rapidly, their medical issues are not being properly treated, there’s an urgent issue there for the people who need to be released,” Supple said.
Meanwhile, about 300 refugee activists blockaded the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel in Brisbane, demanding the government cease transferring the asylum seekers and return people who have already been moved.
About 40 men holding signs saying “Where Is Justice” and “Refugees Are Without Crime” stood on the hotel’s balconies waving as the protest kicked off.
Supporters of about 120 detainees briefly surged past security into the hotel compound in a failed bid to unite one of the asylum seekers with his wife and child.
The protesters pulled back on request of one of the detained men, who said their actions could lead to the asylum seekers being punished.
Some of those at the hotel have been in detention for years after coming to Australia for medical treatment. The organisers are also demanding the men be granted freedom of movement.
“They cannot go out to exercise for their health. We demand they be allowed to walk around and get some fresh air,” protest spokesman Sam Watson said.
Protesters also met across eight Melbourne locations to call for freedom for refugees stuck in indefinite detention, including at a hotel in the northern suburb of Preston, Mantra Bell City, where some refugees have been held for at least seven months.
Asylum seekers who were transported from Manus Island for medical treatment could be seen looking out of hotel windows to watch as up to about 30 protesters spread out outside in order to comply with health authority social distancing and gathering requirements.
Victoria reported eight new coronavirus cases on Saturday, including the GP, with six of those in quarantine.
The male GP is asymptomatic and caught the potentially deadly virus from a close contact, who also showed no symptoms. He worked at three clinics in the state including Croyden, Lilydale and Coburg, according to the department.
Another recently diagnosed coronavirus case was a close contact of a Rydges worker.
Four new Covid-19 cases were identified in New South Wales on Saturday. Of those, two cases are travellers now in hotel quarantine.
The third is a locally acquired case under investigation, a man in his 20s. Rose Bay Public School in Sydney’s eastern suburbs was closed on Friday due to a staff member with a likely case of Covid-19. The fourth case is the now-confirmed case related to the school.
One person has tested positive to the virus in Queensland on Friday night, bringing the total number of active Covid-19 cases in that state to five.
Earlier on Saturday both the Australian deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, and the Australian opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, had tried to dissuade protesters from attending the Black Lives Matter and “Free the refugees” events.
“These people who want to go into protest, they ought to think long and hard about their actions,” McCormack said in Tumut, NSW, where he was on the Eden-Monaro byelection campaign trail with his Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks.
“The courts say no. The chief medical officer, Prof Brendan Murphy, says no. Common sense would dictate to them that they should be staying at home.”
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report