Police will be out in force today, promising to arrest people who gather at large Australia Day protests including one planned for The Domain in Sydney and another outside Melbourne’s Parliament House.
An Invasion Day protest has been organised for the Sydney CBD that more than 6000 people registered interest in attending.
But NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said it was not a good idea. He warned officers would not hesitate to ensure crowds stayed under 500 people in line with the state’s public health orders.
“Do not come in and be part of that public gathering, find another way to express your views and opinions,” he said.
“We are all aware that these are sensitive issues and they are very important issues to a lot of people but we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and we’re asking people to abide by those health orders.”
Police will be able to issue on-the-spot fines upwards of $1000 but the penalty for breaching public health orders comes with a fine up to $11,000 and a six-month jail term.
The coronavirus pandemic will this year see Victorians unable to gather for an Australia Day rally because it has been deemed a public health risk by the state government. But Melbourne City Council has approved an Invasion Day Dawn Service.
Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp says the seated, 250-capacity service at Kings Domain is “a way of supporting an event that reflects that ancient Australian history”.
The January 26 public holiday has in recent years seen thousands of Australians take to the streets to protest against Australia’s national holiday.
The Invasion Day rallies call for, among other things, a changing of the date to reflect the fact that for some it represents more than the beginning of British colonialism when the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788.
They want it to be moved because that same date represents the “continued genocide of Aboriginal people”.
There are some concerns from police that Invasion Day protests could see a return to the ugly scenes from 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests where those taking party were arrested and pepper spray was used.
But organisers say they are determined to go on given Australia Day continues to be held on the anniversary of Australia’s colonisation.
“Every year January 26 comes around you can expect Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people to disrupt,” organiser Tameeka Tighe told The Project last night.
“I find the 500 person cap quite contradictory given that we have 10s of 1000s attend cricket games,” she added.
Lidia Thorpe, the first Indigenous woman in Victorian Parliament, is using her platform to call for change.
On Twitter, she wrote: “Too many Australians still think January 26 is a day of celebration, but for Aboriginal people across this country, it’s a Day of Mourning.
“That’s why I’m inviting communities, councils and organisations to fly the Aboriginal flag at half-mast on #InvasionDay.”
In the Sydney suburb of Erskineville, protests have already begun. The words “26th Jan a day of mourning, not a day to celebrate” were written in paint on a large wall.
Invasion Day protests have been planned for Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Hobart, Newcastle, Rockhampton, Lismore, Albury and Lithgow.