Tens of thousands of people have flocked to the centre of Sydney and Melbourne to protest lockdown. It got us thinking – should we protest during a pandemic, or not?
Tens of thousands of angry, unmasked people are simultaneously marching in Sydney and Melbourne in opposition to the ongoing lockdown. The protestors (many of whom are calling for “freedom”) have been met by a heavy police presence. As it stands, Greater Sydney has been locked down for the past four weeks, with residents only able to leave home with a reasonable excuse. Despite the restrictions, the virus has continued to spread in NSW, with the state recording 163 new cases this morning.
This got us thinking. Whatever the motivation, protesting in the pandemic is a frequent occurrence.
For: Andrew Wicks, The Big Smoke contributor
Yes, COVID is terrifying. Yes, our vaccine rollout has been shambolic, and yes, we’ve again been flung indoors. However, we’ve been kept there, not because of the virus per se, but our official response to it. In New South Wales, the shops were open, but we couldn’t browse. The schools were closed, but open if you needed them to be. There was no clear ruling on what an essential worker was and wasn’t. Even the highest elected official in the country hasn’t a clue. We were the first in line to get a vaccine, and now it isn’t a race (we’re now last in the OECD by the way). He vanishes and reappears, holding vaccines that don’t exist. In fact, we still don’t know how many vaccines we actually have, and how much they cost us. In addition to all this, despite knowing nothing (and doing even less) he put himself in charge of the vaccine rollout, in order to get himself re-elected. It even took a previous Prime Minister to call up the vaccine company and see if anything more could be done.
So, yes. There have been protests. In Victoria last year, 75 were arrested in Melbourne for protesting lockdown measures. Since the pandemic rolled into view (and the lockdowns followed) several people have been charged with “incitement”.
As Dr Maria O’Sullivan (Senior Law Lecturer at Monash University) explains, “The offence of ‘incitement’ criminalises behaviour that encourages others to commit a crime before the crime takes place. Interestingly, incitement need not be acted on for an offence to be committed. So it is enough, in the context of say, murder, that the ‘inciter’ encourages another person to commit murder, even if that crime does not actually take place. The meaning of “incitement” in legislation is very broad. For instance, the Victorian Crimes Act defines “incite” as to command, request, propose, advise, encourage or authorise.”
With such vague definitions, the police are ostensibly able to set the boundaries. The examples are numerous. Famously, the Victorian police arrested a pregnant woman, Zoe Buhler, in her home in Ballarat for starting an anti-lockdown event on Facebook. President of the Victorian Bar Wendy Harris (QC) later said that the arrest “appeared disproportionate to the threat she presented”. In June, Queensland police confiscated and searched the phone of travellers touching down at Sunshine Coast Airport. In August 2020, a video surfaced of a Victoria police officer choking a woman because she wasn’t wearing a mask. The footage shows the older man dragging the young woman along by the throat, before tripping her over and kneeling down on her. The woman was later charged with assault. A month later, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said “it’s not the time to protest regardless of what you’re protesting about.”
I’m sorry, Dan. If not now, when?
Against: Sue Backshall, The Big Smoke contributor
There has been so much time spent cleverly drawing Orwellian parallels between his fiction and our life, or how Voltaire was right, but let’s just call this what it is. Thousands of people protesting in the middle of lockdown is selfish. It’s not an act of defiance, or a moment or revolution, it’s just self-centred nonsense. At the cost of many, some (who are apparently armchair epidemiologists) have decided that the rules do not apply. This is the state that we find ourselves in. Running battles with the police over a vaccine containing 5G or to proudly stand up against a fictional cabal of child abusers who supposedly run the world.
Punching a cop doesn’t make you right, nor does breaking restrictions that are in place to keep an extremely contagious virus in check.