Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
Qld refugee protest banned over virus fears

A Brisbane picnic to protest the detention of refugees in a city hotel has been banned by a Queensland court due to the coronavirus risk.

May 15, 2020

Jogging activists trying to take a breather and picnic in solidarity with detained refugees at a Brisbane hotel have been banned by a court.

Brisbane Greens councillor Jonathan Sri planned to hold a series of small “peaceful picnic vigils” of about 10 people on Friday afternoon.

His aim was to draw attention to the plight of about 120 refugees and asylum seekers held at the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel.

“The notified assembly is for two or three small, widely spaced groups on the roadway next to the hotel where the refugees are being held hostage by the government,” Cr Sri told Brisbane Magistrates Court.

The event was intended to compliment the refugees and asylum seekers’ weekly balcony protest over their detention in the repurposed hotel.

But it was knocked back by the court, which upheld a police service application to ban the event on public safety grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Magistrate Anthony Gett said he was not satisfied that the group could not find an alternative method to protest, such as staying home and using social media.

He said Cr Sri had also failed to provide an adequate safety plan for his proposed picnic, which was to be held on Walmsley Street.

However, the court noted the Queensland health directive for COVID-19 social distancing did not list protesting as a non-essential activity, thus making it an essential activity by default.

“I (also) reiterate my view that the right of peaceful assembly is of paramount importance in society,” Mr Gett said.

On previous Fridays, police have permitted members of the public to protest in solidarity with the detainees so long as it was under the guise of exercise on the footpath in front of the hotel.

Cr Sri said he sought to hold the picnic protest this week because the necessity to keep jogging hampered meaningful communication with the refugees.

Asked why he could not delay the protest until after midnight on Friday, when the health restrictions forbidding the gathering would be lifted, Mr Sri said the detainees were only permitted on the balcony on Friday afternoons.

Concerns have previously been raised over the detainees’ ability to practice safe social distancing in the cramped hotel after a Serco guard tested positive in March.

Australian Border Force said at the time that plans had been established to manage any suspected cases of COVID-19 with detainees to be isolated and tested in line with advice from the Department of Health and the broader Commonwealth response.


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