News & Views

Community Service Announcement: ‘Protests of Groups of 10’ permitted under latest COVID Directions in Victoria

Protests of groups of ten people are ‘permissible’ under the latest Victorian Stay at Home Directions (No.6).

Under the new directions from the Chief Health Officer (CHO) (12 May 2020), Victorians are permitted to leave the house to visit friends or family, to meet in groups of ten outside, and to have up to five visitors in their homes. 

Despite there being no clear or specific mention of protest activity within the CHO directions, there are now two strong indications that the protest activity is included so long as the protest involves no more than 10 people at a time.

Firstly, on Saturday 16 May 2020 refugee protesters held a rally outside of the Mantra Hotel in Preston. The protest was carefully organised to be compliant with physical distancing directions.

We understand that protest organisers liaised with police prior to the protest and were informed that so long as physical distancing and the maximum of 10 people per group were adhered to, no fines would be issued. MALS Legal Observers were present and noted that warnings were given by police to protesters who stood stationary or stayed in one area too long but no fines were issued at the protest. Police stated groups of 10 would include protest organisers and that multiple groups of 10 people—even if distant—would be considered in breach of the CHO directions. 

This response of Victoria Police to the Mantra Hotel protest represents a marked shift away from the arrests and fines issued at earlier protests.

Secondly, on Tuesday 19th May, at a parliamentary inquiry into the Victorian Government’s response to COVID-19, Police Minister Lisa Neville publicly confirmed that the Chief Health Officer considers ‘groups of 10’ to include any group of 10 gathered outside, including for protest activities.

In light of the importance of protest events to democracy and that fact the rights to peaceful assembly and political expression are specifically protected in Victoria legislation, MALS believes that this confirmation should have been widely publicised by government and health authorities.

It is yet to be seen what the courts will say about protesting before the 12 May CHO directions. Controlling the spread of disease must be done with the minimum restrictions on our rights. So it may be that earlier fines and arrests of protesters unlawfully infringed on the right to protest.

These latest Directives remain in place until 11.59pm on 31 May, 2020.

Activist or civil society groups wishing to organise protest activity under these new restrictions should consult the Stay and Home Directions in light of the above, and take reasonable steps to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres from all other persons.

Seek legal advice if in doubt.

Melbourne Activist Legal Support

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS)

is an independent volunteer group of lawyers, human rights advocates, law students, and para-legals. MALS trains and fields Legal Observer Teams at protest events, monitors and reports on policing at activist events, provides training and advice to activist groups on legal support structures, and develops and distributes legal resources for positive social movements. MALS works in conjunction with law firms, community legal centres, and a range of local, national and international human rights agencies. We stand up for civil & political rights.
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