Protest timing ‘incredibly unfortunate’ amid virus spike fears

Senior government minister Simon Birmingham has described the timing of Black Lives Matter marches as “incredibly unfortunate” but acknowledged it was not of the protesters’ choosing.

Jun 08, 2020, updated Jun 08, 2020
Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally in Brisbane, on Saturday. (Photo: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally in Brisbane, on Saturday. (Photo: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

Thousands of Australians took to the streets over the weekend after the police killing of African American man George Floyd.

There are fears the nationwide protests, which were also focused on Indigenous prison rates and deaths in custody, could trigger a spike in coronavirus infections.

“I think the timing was incredibly unfortunate and I accept events that occurred in the United States were not within the control of any of the protest organisers,” Birmingham told ABC radio on Monday.

“Nonetheless, there could have been other ways of trying to create the type of movement and symbolism the protesters sought without having to resort to mass gatherings.”

Birmingham suggested alternatives like the driveway commemorations on Anzac Day.

“There are different ways of activating mass community sentiment without it requiring mass gatherings,” he said.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann described the protests as reckless, irresponsible and self-indulgent.

Birmingham said he understood the sentiments of the protests, but argued it showed a lack of regard for other Australians who made sacrifices during coronavirus lockdowns.

Labor’s Indigenous Affairs spokesman Pat Dodson said it was not responsible to describe protesters as uncaring.

“Unless there’s a voice to the parliament that can express clearly the compassion and concerns Aboriginal people have got over the predicaments they face on many fronts, then you’re going to have people defying the odds to try and at least get their point of view across,” Dodson told ABC radio.

“That can be a great risk to themselves as to others.”

Australia’s chief health officers are meeting on Monday to discuss the next step in easing coronavirus restrictions.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the mass rallies would be taken into account.

“At the moment, it won’t change how we are viewing those processes, but in particular states it may do, depending what happens in relation to any cases that crop up,” he told reporters on Sunday.

There have been 7260 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia and 102 deaths. More than 1.6 million tests have been conducted across the country.


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