The organiser of Sydney’s Black Lives Matter rally has defended going ahead with the protest despite having a last-ditch appeal to overturn its ban dismissed.
The New South Wales Court of Appeal on Monday ruled in favour of Justice Mark Ierace’s declaration in the state’s Supreme Court the protest planned for Tuesday was ‘unauthorised’.
Despite Police Minister David Elliott warning those who turn up to the illegal gathering could face six months in jail, the rally’s organiser Padraic Gibson said protesters were planning a scaled-down demonstration in the city’s Domain.
The Project co-host Steve Price accused Mr Gibson of being ‘bloody minded’ at a time when community transmission of COVID-19 in NSW sits on a knife-edge, while asking him why the rally could not be re-organised for a later date.
‘What is the urgency about Tuesday?’ Price said. ‘Why then, and you saw Dr Nick Coatsworth [deputy chief medical officer] say it presents an unacceptable risk? Why don’t you follow the medical advice?’
Mr Gibson said protesting in small groups of 20 people outdoors was no more dangerous to public health than the 500-person limit on unseated, un-ticketed indoor gatherings permitted by the NSW government.
‘It is a political decision by the government to stop the protests and stop the Black Lives Matter protests in particular,’ he said.
‘The police will have overwhelming force to stop us getting on the road but we will attempt to come together in the Domain, distanced and complying with COVID-19 regulations saying you can’t gather with more than 20 people.
‘Come down there, keep your distance and we’ll set up a big speaker system to hear the voice for justice.’
More than 4,000 people were expected to attend the rally, which was banned by the NSW Supreme Court on Sunday.
‘These regulations were designed in the wake of the mass demonstrations and as a devastatingly effective campaign to keep people off the streets for Black Lives Matter because it strikes at the heart of the injustice,’ Mr Gibson said.
A similar message calling for protesters to be socially distanced was shared to the Justice For David Dungay Jnr Facebook page.
Mr Dungay Jnr died after prison officers stormed his Sydney jail cell in 2015 to stop him eating biscuits and his death was due to be a focal point of the protest.
‘Police are threatening mass fines so we will comply with the COVID-19 regulations that say we cannot be in groups of more than 20,’ the post said.
‘It‘s a big park so spread out to listen to the voices for justice. Stay apart to build unity for action.’
Demonstrators were originally due to walk to Parliament House where a petition would have been delivered calling for justice for Mr Dungay Jr.
Instead, on Monday organisers delivered a petition signed by more than 90,000 people, calling for justice over his death.
Prior to the appeal hearing, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said conducting a protest would be ‘highly irresponsibly’ as the state teeters on the edge of a COVID-19 second wave.
The NSW Court of Appeal on Monday dismissed a challenge which argued Justice Mark Ierace did not have the authority to prohibit the rally.
The appeal court, which will hand down its reasons as soon as possible, made no legal costs order after noting the challenge was a matter of public importance involving complex legislation.
The nephew of Mr Dungay, Paul Silva, previously announced the rally will be going ahead regardless unless his uncle’s death is re-investigated.
‘If the premier can commit to asking Safework NSW and the DPP to investigate whether charges can be laid in relation to my Uncle’s death I’m sure that we can put off the protest,’ Mr Silva wrote on Facebook.
‘I would like the premier to confirm that black lives matter in NSW by asking for that investigation, if she refuses then it just goes to show that no one cares about our lives and we will see you on Tuesday.’
Mr Dungay’s mother, Leetona Dungay, said: ‘We’re still going to rally and we’re going to rally until we get charges. I will rest after that.
‘I’m going to walk strong and tall until the day I get justice.’
Speaking after the unsuccessful appeal, Mr Gibson said The Domain was ‘massive’ and urged people to go there in groups on Tuesday to eat their lunch and listen to speeches.
‘We’ll continue to raise our voices for justice before this family presents 100,000 signatures which have been put on a petition calling for charges to be laid on the guards,’ he said.
Up to 1,400 people have said they will be going to the rally on Facebook while 3,400 others expressed interest.
Organisers have told attendees to register online to allow for contact tracing but NSW Police has warned that officers will be issuing fines.