More than 1300 people have indicated that they are either interested in attending or plan to attend this Saturday’s march at the Tan running track in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
The page promoting the event claims the walk is “legal,” but does not elaborate further on whether it conflicts with stage four restrictions still in place in Melbourne.
It would be “a legal walk, allowing citizens to come together, get healthy and talk about getting our freedoms back,” organisers wrote.
“Peace,” the event adds.
The only people allowed to exercise on the Tan under stage four rules are those who live within 5 kilometres of the walking track and then for no more than an hour. Police say any protest would be illegal under the current restrictions.
“Victoria Police is aware [of] and monitoring potential protest activity planned for this weekend,” a spokeswoman said.
“We are currently making a number of enquiries in relation to this and remain in the process of planning our operational response.
“It remains very clear that under stage four restrictions protest activity cannot occur, with any individual deliberately and blatantly breaching the Chief Health Officer’s directives liable for a fine of $1652.”
Event organiser Tony Pecora the march had been designed to comply with the directives.
“This Freedom Walk is geared toward residents that live within 5 kilometres of Melbourne,” said Mr Pecora, who wants Melbourne to “reset” back to what the laws were before COVID-19 restrictions were introduced and for policies that allow “everybody to take responsibility for their own health”.
“Social distancing will be adhered to, along with facial coverings, and the aim is to remain walking so as not to create a conflict with police,” he said.
“This is an effort to win hearts and minds, and conflict is the last thing we want.
“This walk will happen every week. Same time, same place. We expect more than 15,000 people this Saturday, and hopefully it doubles week on week.”
Victoria Police estimated about 200 people gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance late on Saturday morning after people used social media to tout “Freedom Day” rallies across the country.
About 100 police were in and around the Shrine early in the day. Mounted officers were used to move the crowd on about midday amid chants of “Dictator Dan” and “Let the kids live”.
Before last Saturday’s protest, police said they would arrest people they suspected of “inciting” people to attend.
Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius had said that the force would not tolerate “bat shit crazy” anti-coronavirus theories and warned people planning on attending protests that their feet “won’t touch the ground” before they were arrested.
Last Wednesday officers arrested pregnant Ballarat woman Zoe Buhler and charged her with incitement over a Facebook post in which she encouraged people to attend a rally in the regional Victorian city.
The young mother was handcuffed in front of her children while telling police she would remove the post. Lawyers and civil liberty groups have since raised concerns about the way she was arrested.
On Friday police arrested James Bartolo, the moderator of conspiracy group the Conscious Truth Network, at his home in Taylors Hill.
Bartolo livestreamed his arrest after police arrived with a search warrant and knocked his front door in.
The 27-year-old was charged with incitement, possession of prohibited weapons and two counts of resisting police.
More to come
David Estcourt is a court and general news reporter at The Age.