The NSW government has announced that outdoor protests of up to 500 will be exempt from the Public Health Order limiting outdoor gatherings to 20 people, after sustained public criticism of police treatment of protesters.
Protest organisers must ensure participants are limited to one person per four metres squared and complete a COVID-19 safety plan. It appears that police will be able to issue fines to protesters if this is not complied with.
The change has followed recent outrage over the forceful police breakups of several education cuts protests at the University of Sydney.
Though students have been protesting the Coalition’s proposed fee hikes and cuts to university funding for months, it was only after footage of a student and a law professor being forced to the ground by police went viral last week that the right to protest became an issue of concern in the national press.
Notably, the new exemptions to the Public Health Order followed similar exemptions to people at football stadiums, clubs and pubs.
“Protest should have been the first right returned to the people, not the last,” SRC President and an education cuts protest organiser, Liam Donohoe told Honi. “500 people limits are a good start, but we still have a long way to go. I look forward to seeing even bigger crowds at our next protest.”
Though organisers are happy with the recent changes, they have vowed to continue contesting limits on the protests.
“We should be clear that mass defiance of police repression has forced this concession from the government, and that the student campaign at Sydney University has played a key role in that,” SRC Education Officer Jack Mansell told Honi. “Ultimately though, we can’t accept any restrictions on the right to protest. The first step in the campaign was defying the ban on 20 or more protesters, now we need to defy the ban on 500.”
The exemption for outdoor protests went into effect yesterday, 22 October. Students and staff will be protest against higher education cuts again this Wednesday.
This week the Coalition’s Job-Ready Graduate Bill passed the Lower House. It awaits assent by the Governor General.