Senior Federal Government Minister Mathias Cormann has taken aim at Australian Black Lives Matter protesters, dubbing their actions “selfish”, “self-indulgent” and “reckless” amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Key points:Mathias Cormann said protesters were recklessly risking an outbreak of coronavirusLabor’s Richard Marles accused Senator Cormann of making tone-deaf commentsNeither attended the rallies and both urged people against participating in future protests
Tens of thousands of protesters have rallied in mass gatherings in recent days, demanding an end to deaths of Aboriginal people in police custody.
“I think it is incredibly selfish, it’s incredibly self-indulgent and it does impose an unnecessary and unacceptable risk on to the community,” Senator Cormann told Sky News.
The Australian rallies followed Black Lives Matter protests held around the world since the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in the US city of Minneapolis.
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There’s been more than 430 deaths of Aboriginal people in police custody since the findings of a royal commission into the issue was released almost 20 years ago.
Senator Cormann is the Finance Minister and Government leader in the Upper House.
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume. Mathias Cormann says Black Lives Matter protests ‘selfish and self-indulgent’
Labor’s spokeswoman for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said Senator Cormann should be listening to the “visceral cries” of people speaking out against inequality.
She said his home state of Western Australia had some of the highest levels of incarceration of Aboriginal people, including two deaths in custody in recent years.
“Mathias Cormann should know better than to describe these protests yesterday, this cry from the heart of many thousands of people across the world and in Australia, as self-indulgent and reckless,” Ms Burney said.
“It struck me listening to people at the protest that they were very conscious of what the health risks [were].”
Linda Burney called on Mathias Cormann to reflect on his comments.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)
Protesters rallied in Canberra on Friday, ahead of more than 60,000 Australians taking part in rallies in the nation’s three biggest cities, with Brisbane attracting the largest crowd of about 30,000 people.
“It was a peaceful protest, without any real concerns, and we were happy with how it went,” a Queensland Police spokesperson told the ABC.
“Police were even handing out face masks to people.”
Melbourne protesters gathered at the steps of Victorian Parliament.(ABC News: Elias Clure)
Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles said Senator Cormann’s comments were tone deaf.
“I don’t feel like I’m in a position to say to Indigenous Australians, who are protesting against that, that this is a selfish and indulgent act,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program.
“I felt uncomfortable about the mass gathering but I’m not about to engage in that kind of judgement of those who did it.”
Neither Mr Marles nor Senator Cormann attended the rallies across Australia.
Both said they feared mass gatherings could lead to a surge in coronavirus cases.
Huge crowds protested in Sydney’s CBD on Saturday afternoon.(ABC News: Jonathan Hair)
“It’s quite irresponsible what we’ve seen there,” Senator Cormann said.
“I think about the heartbreak of families who haven’t been able to attend funerals for their loved ones because they were doing the right thing by taking the health advice, my heart just goes out to them.
“As they see people going recklessly to these sorts of demonstrations, that must be just awful for them to watch.”
Crowds gather in Brisbane for a Black Lives Matter protest.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)
The Sydney rally of around 20,000 people came after the New South Wales Court of Appeal ruled in favour of a last-ditch attempt to lawfully authorise a Sydney protest.
The last-minute decision meant those marching in Sydney were immune from prosecution for breaching public health orders.
After the march, a small group of protesters clashed with police at Central Station.
Police arrested three people and used capsicum spray during the scuffle. Five people received treated at the scene for the effects the spray.
On Sunday, a 21-year-old man was charged with offensive behaviour and resisting police as a result of the incident.
Police spraying protesters with pepper spray inside Central Station after a Black Lives Matter rally in Sydney.(AAP: James Gourley)
Mr Marles said he would not attend future rallies during the pandemic and urged others to do the same.
“I would have preferred that we didn’t see the mass gathering but it’s happened and I understand it and I understand why people did go out,” he said.
“We’ve got a major issue in this country [and] to suggest that this is something which is imported, is patently ridiculous. And to say to those who are standing up against it and to do something about it, that this is an act of selfishness and indulgence, is wrong.”
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume. Aerial footage shows thousands attending Sydney Black Lives Matter rally
But Ms Burney said it was not her place to tell people not to attend future rallies amid the pandemic.
“That’s not for me to say whether I support something or don’t support something,” she said.
“What I am simply saying is that the level of frustration, the fact that there were tens of thousands of people yesterday that felt that they need to send a message of solidarity to the Floyd family in America and highlight the issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia was instructive.”
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