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‘Back to work’: MPs say protests could prove need to ease restrictions

Commonwealth medical experts are taking a “wait-and-see” approach to whether the protests lead to any increase in COVID-19 cases at the same time Australians return to shopping centres, restaurants and bars.

“If there is no spike in infections that re-endanger the community, there is zero justification for not easing restrictions further,” NSW Liberal senator Hollie Hughes said.

“People need to be allowed to go back to work, our internal borders need to be opened and the economy needs to get moving.

“Australians have worked so hard to flatten the curve, they deserve to be able to go to the footy or visit friends and family again.”

Other government MPs said it would be very hard to argue for keeping the restrictions in place if there was no spike in cases within two weeks of the protests, but they acknowledged the potential for tougher restrictions.

“I think it depends if we see an outbreak as a result of these protests,” said Liberal MP Dave Sharma, the member for Wentworth in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

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“If we do, I’d expect easing of restrictions to be pushed further back.”

Queensland Liberal National Party senator James McGrath rebuked the protesters for putting others at risk.

“I’ve never seen so many selfish and stupid people who think they are better and smarter than their fellow Aussies,” he said.

“The protesters have done a giant ‘up yours’ to anyone who has lost their job, lost their business or held a restricted funeral.”

But NSW Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, an advocate for an Indigenous “voice” to Parliament, made no criticism of the protesters.

“My view is that people should always follow the law but the Indigenous issues are entirely legitimate and we need to deliver on our promises to them,” he said.

Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy, who represents the Northern Territory, said the protests showed the scale of the grief over more than 430 Indigenous deaths in custody over three decades.

“This issue resonates far deeper than any other issue in Australia and around the world,” Senator McCarthy told the Nine Network.

“And we need to be open to that and hearts need to move there very quickly to the point that there is incredible change in this country.”

One Labor MP who attended the protest, Graham Perrett, said he would attend Parliament to raise a private member’s bill on family law, adding he was cautious while at the Brisbane protest.

“I wore a mask, washed my hands regularly, had sunglasses and a hat on for much of the rally and kept socially distant,” he said.

“I stayed back as far as possible.”

A spokesman for Senator Faruqi said she planned to attend Parliament this week and would follow social-distancing precautions.

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“If she does develop any symptoms she will follow health advice and get tested immediately,” he said.

Senator Henderson said many people would like to have attended the protests but Australia was now in a “very different world” where large gatherings were unlawful.

“For Janet Rice to compound her error by proposing to attend Parliament on Wednesday without self-quarantining is highly irresponsible and could have a dramatic effect,” Senator Henderson said.

Senator Rice plans to drive to Canberra to attend Parliament and then monitor and isolate herself if any symptoms appear.

“None of us would normally choose to protest in a pandemic, but we don’t have a choice when black lives are being lost and our government still refuses to do anything about it,” she said in a statement.

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