NSW Supreme Court Recognises Right to Protest during COVID19

In a major decision recognising the right to protest during COVID19, the NSW Supreme Court has ruled that the right to freedom of speech outweighs the minimal health risks of a COVID-safe rally.

The court’s decision on Monday afternoon meant that a National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) rally against funding cuts to the university sector went ahead at 12pm today in Victoria Park, Sydney, attracting 100 participants.

Above: Michael Thompson (NTEU NSW Division Secretary), George Newhouse (National Justice Project Director & Principal Solicitor), and Mark Morey (Unions NSW Secretary)

George Newhouse, Director and Principal Solicitor of the National Justice Project, representing the NTEU in the NSW Supreme Court, has stated:

“The right to protest can be protected in a COVID-safe manner. When the NSW government is allowing as many as 18,000 people to attend football matches, there is no excuse to prevent citizens from expressing their freedom of speech in socially-distanced rallies.”

“During a time of increased policing powers, it is vital that civil society organisations and trade unions can take action to hold governments to account and to raise awareness without the risk of copping massive fines and bans.”

Above: Michael Thompson (NTEU NSW Division Secretary) speaks at the COVID-safe rally.

To be COVID-safe, the rally was limited to five groups of no more than nineteen members per group. Each group had its own marshal and was physically distanced from the other groups of members. Attendees at the rally were required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing. All attendees were required to register beforehand and adhere to a COVID-safe checklist.

Despite these protections to safeguard the health of protestors, and despite extensive negotiations with the NSW Police, the rally’s approval was denied and the police sought an order from the NSW Supreme Court to prohibit the rally from taking place.

NTEU NSW Division Secretary Michael Thompson stated in an NTEU Media Release that:

“It’s extremely worrying that NSW police, with the full backing of the NSW Liberal government, have seen COVID as an opportunity to unnecessarily ban all protest. We don’t need a police state to beat this virus, we need a sensible approach that balances risk with democratic principles.”

National Justice Project Director and Principal Solicitor, George Newhouse, is available for comment by contacting:

Timothy Ginty
Digital Communications and Fundraising Specialist, National Justice Project
0434 640 009
timothyg@justice.org.au