Jenny Leong MP asks the Health Minister to make Protests COVID Safe

Our right to peaceful protest in a central part of our democracy.

Greens Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong MP has asked the Minister for Health to develope a COVID Safe Plan specifically for peaceful protests, similar to those in place for businesses and major events.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (14:42:11): I direct my question to the Minister for Health and Medical Research. Given the need to adjust to the new reality of living with COVID restrictions to keep our community safe and that NSW Health has helpfully provided templates to businesses to develop COVID safety plans by industry, will the Minister work with NSW Health to develop a specific COVID safety plan for peaceful protests, acknowledging their importance to our democracy and the need to avoid unnecessary uncertainty and division at this time?

Mr BRAD HAZZARD (WakehurstMinister for Health and Medical Research) (14:43:00): This is a difficult issue. In this Parliament almost everybody is supportive of the right of people to express their democratic view in a normal circumstance. A couple of my Labor colleagues are getting excited by the press conference yesterday. Yesterday there was a group outside Parliament House who very politely stood aside while the press conference went ahead. They expressed their views but there were only three or four of them on an important issue—rental issues, particularly for public housing tenants and tenants generally.

On a day when Victoria has 725 cases and 15 deaths and when the whole of Australia remains on high alert that this COVID-19 virus is a dangerous and unknown quantity, the various health orders, which have been made on health advice, have to be adhered to in the most stringent way. Whilst my signature is on each of those health orders, they are made under the Public Health Act 2010 and with advice from the Chief Health Officer. In the end the Government has to make the final decision, as is our responsibility in our democratic circumstance, but we take health advice. The health advice is that this virus is dangerous and is literally lurking below the surface. In New South Wales last night, I think we could say that it is good we had only 12 cases. But it is not necessarily good because we do not know how many other cases are being transmitted below the surface. While people who attend demonstrations are by definition expressing their democratic rights—I think it is fair to say that in my younger and more enthusiastic days I took part in some demonstrations—

Mr Dominic Perrottet: I knew you were a leftie.

Mr BRAD HAZZARD: I am surprised you would be surprised that I have taken part in demonstrations.

Ms Gladys Berejiklian: You were old enough in the sixties.

Mr BRAD HAZZARD: Thank you very much, Premier.

Mr John Barilaro: He still remembers the Depression years.

Mr BRAD HAZZARD: I want to address this matter seriously. I acknowledge it was in the late sixties and early seventies.

Mr John Barilaro: The 1860s and 1870s.

Mr BRAD HAZZARD: That is unkind. I say to the member for Newtown that at the moment the public health view—I think under the fourth iteration of the public health orders relating to gatherings—is that a maximum of 20 people can meet outside. That is for a reason. We need to make sure that people stay safe from this virus. I am happy to have discussions again with the member on those issues. She is obviously entitled to raise them and I thank her for raising them on behalf of her constituents. I have said publicly before that I am supportive of the issues around the Black Lives Matter movement. For 11 years I was the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I have many friends who are Aboriginal and I understand their concerns.

However, this is not the right time to be changing the public health orders, which would enable the possibility of the virus transmitting among those attending the demonstrations, let alone among those at home. I am happy to work with the member for Newtown if she wants to come and have a chat in my office. I will certainly talk to the Chief Health Officer about whether there is any way we can look at the issues the member is talking about. As the Deputy Premier helpfully said at the start, my feeling at the moment is that the answer is no. However, I am happy to chat to the member. She should come and see me. As soon as we can get back to some degree of normalcy we will do it.

Ms Jenny Leong: There are COVID Safe plans for racecourses and sex work. I think there could also be COVID Safe plans for peaceful protest.

Mr BRAD HAZZARD: There are COVID Safe plans. As I said to the member for Newtown, she should come and talk to me.

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