Liberty Victoria is very concerned about the arrest of one person and the issuing of fines totalling $43,000 to those engaged in a “car convoy protest” on Good Friday outside the Mantra Hotel in Preston, which is holding refugees and people seeking asylum (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-10/coronavirus-easter-victorians-told-to-stay-home-this-weekend/12140378).
As noted in that article, an open letter signed last month by more than 1,000 doctors and other health professionals called for people seeking asylum and refugees being held in detention, including hotels, to be released into the community during the coronavirus pandemic. The letter, authored by Sydney paediatrician and refugee advocate David Isaacs, said that hotels being used as detention sites "constitute a very high-risk environment for detainees' mental and physical health".
Liberty Victoria is most concerned about the conditions of detention, and especially the vulnerability of detainees to an outbreak of Covid-19.
Victoria Police has stated "While Victoria Police respects the public's right to protest, these are extraordinary times and the health and safety of every Victorian needs to be our number one priority at this time… As directed by the Chief Health Officer, there are only four reasons why people should leave their home: to get essential goods and services, for care and other compassionate reasons, to work or study, or to exercise."
This statement would appear to suggest that there is no right to engage in outdoor protest in Victoria under the current Covid-19 restrictions.
Liberty Victoria notes that the “stay at home” directions from the Deputy Chief Health Officer must be interpreted consistently with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) (the Charter). The Charter expressly protects the human rights of freedom of movement, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and freedom of association, and taking part in public life. As public authorities, members of Victoria Police must act compatibly with the Charter and give proper consideration to human rights.
Given the perilous conditions faced by refugees and people seeking asylum at the Mantra Hotel in Preston, Liberty Victoria notes that it is at least arguable that such protests (which appear to have been engaged in a manner that complies with “social distancing”), were conducted on compassionate grounds – and that those engaged in the protests sought to provide care and support to vulnerable people with particular needs. Alternatively, those engaged in the protests could be considered as engaging in voluntary work for a charitable purpose.
Liberty Victoria spokesperson Michael Stanton stated:
“The extraordinary powers of police at present must be exercised with restraint.
“Those detainees at the Mantra Hotel in Preston have not been alleged to have committed any offence, but even if they had that is no justification for holding them in conditions that expose them to a real risk of contracting Covid-19.
“The right to protest is fundamental to a functioning democracy. It seems most unfair that a person can be free to visit a Bunnings or JB Hifi store, yet cannot engage in a form of socially distant protest, which involves less interpersonal contact.
“The restrictions announced must be interpreted consistently with fundamental human rights. If the Victorian Government intends that all outdoor protest activity is banned under the current restrictions, then it should say so expressly and justify why such an approach is a proportionate limitation to the human rights of all Victorians.
“In order to provide clarity with regard to the Covid-19 restrictions, Liberty Victoria calls on the Victorian Government to respond as to whether it regards outdoor, socially distant, protest activity as unlawful, and if so the reasons for such a restriction”.
For enquiries contact Liberty Victoria at
firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 03 9670 6422