This weekend saw some disturbing incidents playing out in Sydney during protests against the current lockdowns.
NSWCCL has reviewed some of the footage with concern.
We support the right to peaceful protest - irrespective of whether we agree with the demands of those protesting.
But rights are not absolute and protest should be made in a responsible way that takes account of prevailing circumstances.
In the current circumstances, with the Delta variant circulating in some communities in an uncontrolled way, a delicate balance must be struck between our rights to gather and move freely on the one hand and our right to life and health on the other.
To quote Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton:
“I love freedom. Who doesn’t love freedom? I want freedom from being amongst the over 4 million official (and likely 10 million actual) COVID deaths globally. And freedom from being amongst the over 13 million current active cases. Or millions of current Long COVID cases."
“Long COVID doesn’t make you free – debilitating fatigue, ongoing shortness of breath, neurological and psychiatric symptoms for weeks to months.”
Where there is a risk to public health, the right to protest must be exercised very carefully.
This doesn't mean we can't protest, but it does mean we need to rethink how we do it. Some protests have moved online; others even before the Delta strain emerged used COVID marshals, face masks, hand sanitisers and social distancing. This weekend's protest involved very few face masks. Other precautions were not in evidence.
In addition, some commentators and members of the media observed that it was one of the most aggressive and violent protests that they have seen. Assaults, whether on police or the public, are never justified.
There has been a general acceptance by the public until now that the restrictive health orders imposed on us by governments have been a reasonable and necessary response to address a serious threat to health and life. But trust in government decisions has eroded following public perceptions of mistakes being made at both the State and Federal levels of government – whether in the availability of vaccines, sufficiency of quarantine, or in the swiftness of response to the current COVID breakout in NSW. The outbreak of civil unrest, while acutely disturbing, is not surprising given this community unease, coupled with the stress of lost livelihoods and a perception of a lack of even-handedness in the official response to the outbreak depending on postcode.
A heavy-handed police response can only further inflame tensions. NSWCCL calls on New South Wales Police to exercise understanding and restraint and for our communities to respect the public health orders and work together to curtail this deadly pandemic. The sooner we do, the sooner we can once again enjoy our precious freedoms.