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Protesters’ cause is just, but it is vital they tread a safe path

Many Victorians intend to take to the streets on Saturday in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is a just cause, and one that resonates well beyond the borders of America. But in the time of a pandemic, a mass gathering of protesters does present a unique challenge to our customary freedoms of expression.

There was a fundamental principle that drove Australia’s response to the pandemic: saving lives should sit above all other concerns. There was little argument to the contrary. Protecting life is a principle that underpins many of our public institutions and civil society. Victorians should support Black Lives Matter – 432 Indigenous Australians have died in custody since 1991.

Public protest plays an important part in the workings of a democratic society. It must have its limits, as all public discourse does in relation to the discrimination of certain groups and the use of violence, but otherwise the ability to take to the streets, in whatever form, must normally be fully supported.

But these are not normal times, and those wishing to gather face an unusual moral dilemma. While there is limited community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria, large crowds could facilitate the transmission of the virus, putting their own lives and possibly others they come into contact with at risk. The potential dangers should not be taken lightly.

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