Last weekend tens of thousands of Australians gathered in capital cities to protest police brutality and express support for the Black Lives Matter movement, however the demonstrations sparked debate as they flouted current health guidelines still in place due to Covid-19.
Now Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hit out at calls for similar protests to be held again this weekend, and described the large-scale gatherings as “the only real block” to the easing of further social distancing restrictions, such as allowing more people to attend funerals, as its not yet known whether the country will now face a second wave of the virus.
Speaking to Ben Fordham on 2GB this morning, the PM said that, while there should be no disagreement on the importance of the issue behind the recent protests, it would be “absolutely unacceptable” for any further demonstrations to take place at this time, as the country teeters on the verge of being able to return to ‘normal’.
“The timing has been complicated, frankly, by these rallies last weekend,” he told Ben Fordham this morning. “We don’t know what the health impact of that is. And while I think people were respectful of the issue that was being raised, broadly, I think the double standards that they allowed themselves to perpetrate by turning up has offended, rightly, I think Australians right across the country.”
When pressed by Fordham on why state governments cannot double the number of people allowed to attend funerals immediately, Morrison said the advice he has received from health experts suggests that the health impacts of last weekend’s events will not be evident for at least another week.
He added: “The rally last weekend is the only legitimate real block to this at the moment, because we actually don’t know right now whether those rallies on the weekend may have caused outbreaks … We do know that in other countries where there have been these sorts of rallies, that they have led to those sorts of outbreaks … it just puts a massive spanner in the works.
“And that’s why it’s so frustrating. And that’s why I appealed to people before last Saturday. By all means, raise your issue. But by doing this, they have put the whole track back to recovery at risk and certainly any further action on this front would be absolutely unacceptable on any terms because we want to see all this stuff come back in and the funerals for me personally, I mean, we both have lost a parent recently and we were both in a position to have our fathers well remembered and that was incredibly important to us. And it breaks my heart about every funeral story that I hear and I want to see that come back like so many other things. But people going out and going to mass rallies puts that at risk. Just do the right thing by each other. ”
It comes after widespread debate over last weekend’s demonstrations, with many politicians divided over the issue. Several, including Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann, slammed the actions of Aussies, labelling them “irresponsible” for gathering in masses amid the pandemic and posing an “unacceptable risk” to the community. Speaking to the Today show on Monday, Cormann said: “Many Australians have made significant sacrifices to help keep the community safe from the coronavirus spread. Many people have lost their jobs in order to help suppress the spread of this virus to save lives. As a nation right now, a very important challenge for us [is] to avoid the second wave. These sorts of mass gatherings, at a time when there are still severe restrictions all around Australia, on people generally, does expose our community to an unacceptable and unnecessary risk.”
However, not everybody agreed and on Monday morning Northern Territory senator Malarndirri McCarthy hit out at Cormann and his views on the protests. Also speaking on the Today show, the politician said more action is needed to ensure the safety of Indigenous people throughout the country.
“The issue of first nation’s people dying in custody is what is reckless in this country and irresponsible,” McCarthy said. “What I would say to Mathias Cormann and the prime minister, pull together a National Cabinet to reduce the high rates of incarceration and Aboriginal deaths in custody.”
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