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Health Minister rejects Invasion Day Covid plan; protestors risk arrest

The Minister for the Police has threatened protesters with fines and imprisonment.

Minutes before a late night court hearing, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazard formally refused to allow an application for exemption from public health orders made by organisers of tomorrow’s Invasion Day Rally.

Organisers had sought a last minute court order to force the Minister to consider the exemption application. Barrister Stephen Laurence, acting for the organisers, said that he would seek a statement of reasons for the refusal.

Attendees at tomorrow’s protest are now at risk of fines and arrest. NSW Police Minister David Elliott told 2GB Radio this morning that “anyone who attends tomorrow’s protest will be exposed to fines and imprisonment.”

The matter has been adjourned until February 1. While this is well after the rally, any ruling made could affect the legality of any fines and arrests made at the planned protest.

At a press conference held this afternoon at Djarrbarrgalli (the Domain), organisers of tomorrow’s planned Invasion Day rally and Greens MLC David Shoebridge criticised NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard for failing to respond to the organisers’ request for an exemption from the Public Health Order. 

Under the Order, protest gatherings in Greater Sydney are limited to an attendance of 500 people. 

Organisers submitted the exemption application along with a COVID safety plan to the office of Health Minister Brad Hazzard on January 22. The application requested either a complete exemption or permission for up to 3000 people to attend the planned rally, in line with current restrictions in regional NSW. It was further noted that larger protests conducted last year under more stringent health restrictions were conducted safely. 

Organisers said that “almost 100” COVID safety marshalls will encourage mask wearing and social distancing among attendees, while QR codes at major entrances to the Domain will be used to record the details of protestors. Karly Warner, the CEO of the NSW/ACT Aboriginal Legal Service, said that organisers had “done the right thing” and that the government’s failure to engage with protesters would make the rally less safe for the public. 

Mr Shoebridge decried the lack of communication from the NSW government and said that the only response to the exemption application had been “threats of violence through the Police Minister.” 

NSW Police Minister David Elliott told 2GB Radio this morning that the protest organisers were “breathtakingly irresponsible” and that “anyone who attends tomorrow will be exposed to fines and imprisonment.” 

Updated 12.05am

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