Some 3000 people who plan to march in a Sydney Invasion Day rally on Tuesday face fines and imprisonment, NSW’s police minister has warned.
But rally organisers are hoping the NSW Supreme Court intervenes to approve their protest, despite COVID-19 public health orders limiting outdoor gatherings to 500 people.
It’s a major flashpoint on an Australia Day unlike any that have come before.
The annual Invasion Day rally is scheduled to start at Sydney’s Domain at 9am, with more than 3000 clicking ‘attending’ on the Facebook event on Monday evening. Almost 4000 more people said they were ‘interested’ in the event.
“Anyone who attends tomorrow will be exposed to fines and imprisonment because they’ll be in breach of the public health orders,” Police Minister David Elliott told 2GB on Monday.
Rally organisers are calling for Australia Day to be abolished and for justice for First Nations people.
Lawyers representing protest organisers were on Monday evening planning to approach the Supreme Court to give the gathering the green light.
Organisers earlier claimed that their attempts to work with the NSW government and police to agree on a COVID-safe approach had fallen on deaf ears.
Greens MP David Shoebridge published a letter sent to Health Minister Brad Hazzard requesting an exemption from public health orders for the rally, attaching a six-page safety plan, which includes compulsory masks and safety marshalls.
But Mr Hazzard did not grant the exemption, and organisers say police and other government representatives have declined to meet with them.
Police have warned of a “highly visible and mobile … operation” across the state to ensure Australia Day revellers comply with COVID restrictions.
Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said police would focus on public safety, alcohol-related crime and anti-social behaviour.
He said police did not intend to disrupt any plans, but cautioned that they were empowered to make sure gatherings were not too big and people were wearing masks in mandated settings.
Circular Quay will be closed from 6pm, with only ticket holders, those with hospitality bookings, venue workers and residents allowed through barricades.
Road closures are also expected in the Sydney CBD.
Royal Australian Air Force aircraft will conduct a flypast over Sydney Harbour to celebrate the national public holiday. One or two F-35A Lighting II aircraft from Number 3 Squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown will take part in the spectacle.
The day’s events, both celebration and protest, will proceed in sweltering heat, as a cool change is only expected to break Sydney’s heatwave on Tuesday evening.
Temperatures of over 40C may hit western Sydney, with coastal areas benefiting from a cooler sea breeze.