New South Wales Minister for Police David Elliott has threatened Invasion Day protestors with fines and imprisonment if they gather on Tuesday.

Minister Elliott said the planned Invasion Day protest would breach COVID-19 public health orders, as outdoor protests are capped at 500 people.

Currently, the event has over 3,000 people registered as attending on Facebook and almost 4,000 listed as interested in attending.

An annual event, the Invasion Day protest will begin at Djarrbarrgalli, the Domain, on Tuesday morning and according to Minister Elliott, NSW Police will be present enforcing public health orders and fines.

“We’ve issued a number of fines [for previous protests] and people have been before courts and people tomorrow will be exposed to fines because they’ll be in breach of public health orders,” Minister Elliott told 2GB Radio on Monday.

“I can’t believe any organisation, let alone one that pretends to advocate for Indigenous rights, would say, ‘Let’s put aside the risk of COVID-19, let’s breach public health orders, let’s get together despite the pleas of the community asking them not to get together’.”

The Minister rejected any allegations that NSW Police’s position and presence is racially motivated.

“NSW Police have never told people they can’t get together because the position they’re advocating is unpalatable. We encourage people to express those views, that’s what sets us apart from other countries,” he said.

“Anyone who’s claiming it’s racial, that’s absolutely nonsensical.”

“You should be expressing your opinion to your local member, you should be expressing your views online, this year just isn’t the year to [protest] unfortunately.”

Minister Elliott also voiced his concerns for the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in attendance.

“Indigenous Australians, we know from historical collection of data, are quite vulnerable when it comes to these types of diseases,” he said.

While the Minister has concerns for the public health implications of such a large event, Invasion Day protest organisers have outlined on their Facebook page that it is a COVID-safe event.

The event’s organisers include the Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN), Fighting in Solidarity Towards Treaties (FISTT), Justice for David Dungay Jnr, Indigenous Social Justice Associate (ISJA) Sydney, and National Union of Students (NUS) Against Racism.

“This will be a COVID-safe event, with strict safety protocols. We request you do not attend if you have any cold or flu like symptoms, wear a mask and practice social distancing,” the organisers wrote.

In the wake of the announced police presence, the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT is running a hotline for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on Tuesday.

“The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT will be running a phone hotline on 0427 435 364 for any Aboriginal protesters who need legal advice during tomorrow’s rally,” said CEO Karly Warner on Monday.

Warner told NIT that the organisers have done all the right things in terms of making the event COVID-safe.

“They have a COVID safety plan in place, and have asked protesters to wear masks and practise social distancing. They notified police of their plans to protest well in advance of the event,” she said.

“The organisers have filed an application for this protest to be exempt from the public health orders, but have received no response.

“If police have concerns about [Tuesday’s] protest, they should be engaging directly with the organisers rather than cancelling meetings with them and going to the media instead. This is unproductive and is inflaming the situation rather than looking out for public safety.”

Warner questioned the “heavy-handed” response from Minister Elliott, as the State has not recorded any new cases of COVID-19 in over a week.

“In NSW, we have had eight consecutive days of no locally acquired coronavirus infections. The Premier has said she hopes to relax COVID restrictions this week to ‘pre-Avalon’ conditions,” she said.

“It would be a shame to smash up this peaceful protest only to then change the conditions afterward. It calls into question the motivations behind any heavy-handed response.”

“The cricket recently went ahead at the SCG while Coronavirus was still being transmitted in the community. Ten thousand people per day were allowed to attend the SCG — yet we are seeing this response to 2,900 people exercising their right to protest.”

Many have taken to Twitter to criticise the Minister’s comments and draw attention to the double standards for sporting events.

By Rachael Knowles