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Covid fines challenged NSW Supreme Court: Protesters threatened with jail time if sporting events allowed
While thousands gathered at NSW football games and horse races, others outside in a group of 30 were fined for political protest and threatened with jail time under a public health order.
A test case in the NSW Supreme Court has arrested two of about 40 people who have been fined in violation of those specific public health regulations that prevented public gatherings of more than 20 people, with few exceptions.
Chad Stratton was fined at Sydney’s Domain during a Black Lives Matter protest on July 28, 2020.
Ruby Pandolfi was arrested on October 10, 2020 during a protest against One Nation MP Mark Latham’s proposal “commonly referred to as the Trans Erasure Bill,” the court was told Thursday.
Public health regulations were changed in December to allow for peaceful, socially distancing protests of up to 500 people.
NSW Supreme Court test case challenges Covid-19 fines handed out to political protesters
While thousands gathered at NSW football games and horse races, others outside in a group of 30 were fined for protesting politically and threatened with jail time under a public health order.
“Unfortunately too late for my clients,” said Shane Prince SC in his opening address.
Mr Prince said the list of exceptions in these specific health regulations “tells you a lot about what the government’s priorities were in exercising these powers”.
Video footage of crowds cheering at a Rabbitohs NRL match was played on the court, followed by footage of gamblers racing hugging each other on Everest, both events just days after the protesters were fined.
“Nobody likes to be criticized, not even the government, not even the executive … that’s why the constitutional guarantee (of political communication) is so important,” Prince said.
“Political discourse and protest and dissent are almost always directed against the executive government … in a position to apply and enforce these laws.”
Video footage of crowds cheering at a Rabbitohs NRL match was played out in court, followed by footage of racing gamblers hugging on Everest, both events just days after the protesters were fined
Professor Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University in Victoria, agreed during a cross-examination by Michael Sexton SC that events should be organized including contact tracing registration and seat plans.
But Prof. Bennett said no outdoor transmission had been recorded before 2021, and the fact that people were in one place for extended periods meant the risk of infection may have been higher.
dr. Jeremy McAnulty of the NSW Department of Health said the risk of transmission in unstructured events was concerning at the time.
“It only takes one person with COVID-19 to cough in your face,” he said.
“The concern was that the authorities could not identify everyone at such an event or trace a contract if this happened.”
At that time, people didn’t have to buy tickets to enter supermarkets or attend sporting events in the community.
Prof Bennett said the biggest challenge in large gatherings was the interaction before and after the event, such as tunnels leading to a stadium.
Out-of-court protest organizer Paddy Gibson, who was also fined at the Black Lives Matter rally, said the laws were draconian and targeted protesters raising critical issues, such as deaths in custody of First Nations peoples.
Greens MP Abigail Boyd (pictured) also showed her support, saying NSW Labor was in ‘lockstep’ with the state government and enjoyed the idea of having such powers if elected
Greens MP Abigail Boyd also showed her support, saying NSW Labor was in ‘lockstep’ with the state government and enjoyed the idea of having such powers if elected.
Joshua Lees of Newtown said he was attending a protest outside the University of Sydney, along with about 30 people, all masked, when police gave the order to disperse.
“As we left, the police came and grabbed some of us and fined us for the protest,” he told AAP.
“This was not about COVID. This is an excuse to contain and intimidate the protesters and strengthen their own repressive forces.”
Adam Adelpour was held overnight and threatened with six months in prison after attending the same protest, saying more people had gathered in a classroom at the time.
“You see the absurdity and the double standards,” he told AAP.
Dozens of others fined at similar events have overturned their local lawsuits pending the outcome of the Supreme Court’s challenge.