Sydney, Jan 25 : Protesters planning rallies against Australia Day risk breaching Covid-19 regulations and could result in fines and arrests, New South Wales (NSW) state officials warned on Monday.
Held on the anniversary of European settlers' arrival in Sydney Harbour, January 26, 1788, Australia Day has become increasingly divisive in past years with some saying it overlooks the continent's long history of indigenous occupation, reports Xinhua news agency.
Rallies of several thousands of people has been planned for Tuesday, to advocate changing the date of the national holiday, despite Covid-19 regulations limiting gatherings to under 500 people.
Aboriginal elder, Rhonda Grovenor Dixon was among those calling for change and encouraging others to gather in Sydney's Domain, known in the local indigenous language as Djarrbarrgalli.
"2020 has been full of crisis and pain, first with fires, then with the pandemic. Join us at Djarrbarrgalli for healing, for resistance, this will be our year," Dixon said.
"There can be no celebrations while the system continues to kill our people and destroy our lands. Our sovereignty has never been ceded. On this platform we can come together to unite and make 2021 a year when we start to see real change." While similar events have been held in past years, state authorities said that this year COVID-19 made large public gatherings an unacceptable risk to public health.
"Do not come in and be part of that public gathering, find another way to express your views and opinions," NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Michael Willing said.
"We are all aware that these are sensitive issues and they are very important issues to a lot of people but we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and we're asking people to abide by those health orders." Protest organisers have claimed that the gathering would be a "Covid-safe event," requesting people not to attend if they have symptoms, and for those that do to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
With minimal cases of Covid-19 being recorded in Australia over the past several weeks, members of the public were allowed to gather in smaller groups to commemorate the occasion, however police officials said that if demonstrations were in breach of the law then action would be taken.
The penalty for breaching public health orders is up to six months' jail or fines of up to A$11,000 ($8,500).