(20 Nov) In October, NSW members held a physically distanced protest against the Federal Government’s destructive higher education agenda.
To be COVID-safe, the rally was limited to five groups of no more than 19 members per group. Each group had its own marshal and was physically distanced from the other groups of members. Attendees were required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing and had to register beforehand and adhere to a COVID-safe checklist. Despite all this and after extensive negotiations, NSW Police denied permits for the rally and sought an order from the NSW Supreme Court to prohibit it from taking place.
‘It’s extremely worrying that NSW police, with the apparent backing of the NSW Liberal Government, have seen COVID-19 as an opportunity to unnecessarily ban all protest,’ said NSW Division Secretary Michael Thomson. ‘We don’t need police intervention to beat this virus, we need a sensible approach that balances risk with democratic principles.’
George Newhouse, Director and Principal Solicitor of the National Justice Project, represented the NTEU in the NSW Supreme Court. He added: ‘The right to protest can be protected in a COVID-safe manner. When the NSW Government is allowing as many as 10,000 people to attend football matches in a COVID-safe way, there is no excuse to prevent citizens from expressing their freedom of speech in socially-distanced rallies.’
After a long day in court, NSW Police arguments were rejected, clearing the way for the rally to proceed. This fantastic win set a crucial precedent and only a couple of weeks later the NSW Government changed restrictions to permit rallies of up to 500 people.
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