ACT Senator and former Territory opposition leader Zed Seselja has criticised Chief Minister Andrew Barr for not removing lockdown restrictions sooner but supporting the Black Lives Matter protest that was held at Parliament House last week.
Speaking to Sky News today (9 June), Senator Seselja said at least one Canberra cafe was visited a number of times by officials enforcing social distancing over the weekend, but no infringements were handed out at the protests that attracted thousands of people.
“You cannot argue to me that it is not safe to have 21 people in a cafe in Canberra but it is safe to have 50 people in Queanbeyan. It does not pass the pub test,” Senator Seselja said.
“I think the community is rightly very angry at the double standard that has been applied. It is time to ease some restrictions not backed by science.”
Lifting restrictions for businesses in the ACT has been a point of contention for the Canberra Liberals, who have continuously criticised Mr Barr for not opening up the economy sooner.
But Mr Barr was unmoved by Senator Seselja’s comments, accusing him of hypocrisy.
“It will be front-page news to everyone that Senator Seselja has had an epiphany and is now calling for policy backed by science. That has not been his approach to climate change or energy policy,” the Chief Minister said in a statement.
“If the Senator has a serious problem with the AHPPC [Australian Health Protection Principal Committee] advice to National Cabinet then I suggest he raises those concerns, based on his epidemiology qualifications, with Chief Medical Officers.”
The ACT’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman, said that the ACT was not moving in lockstep with NSW and that the lower limits in pubs and clubs in the Territory was to mitigate risk.
“In the ACT we have tried very hard to give a wide range of openings to all sectors within the community,” she said. “We have moved quite early on opening up indoor sports as well as some of our museums, galleries and cultural institutions.
“I think there is a principle of cumulative risk of having multiple places open and we are just trying to achieve the right balance here in the ACT.”
Senator Seselja singled out Mr Barr in a Facebook post on Sunday night for not taking action against protestors.
“The worthiness or otherwise of the cause does not change the expert medical advice,” he wrote.
“The right to protest is important, but so is the right to worship, to work and operate a small business, to see your family and be with them in times of grief.
“Here in Canberra, there has been silence from Andrew Barr as people have gathered in close proximity in numbers far greater than the current restrictions allow.
“That is not a concession that was given to families trying to organise funerals or weddings or small businesses who wanted to open in the last two months.”
Mr Barr said that protestors had to balance their rights and responsibilities within a democracy including taking appropriate health precautions by self-isolating and getting tested after attending the protest if symptoms develop.
“The right to protest is a fundamental one,” he said.
“I do note that I am being asked these questions [this week], but I was not two or three weeks ago when a whole bunch of people protested against the 5G network or some other conspiracies around Bill Gates’ alleged involvement in the coronavirus.
“They were large gatherings in the hundreds and at that time the Prime Minister said ‘it is a free country, people can do what they want’.
“We have rights and we have responsibilities in Australia and I will defend the right to protest whether that is against the 5G telecommunications network or the founder of Microsoft if that is what floats your boat.”