George Floyd protests in Australia

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George Floyd protests in Australia
Part of George Floyd protests
Brisbane Anti-Racism Protest - 6 June 2020 - AndrewMercer - DSC05346.jpg
Brisbane Anti-Racism Protest - 6 June 2020 - AndrewMercer - DSC05261.jpg
Brisbane Anti-Racism Protest - 6 June 2020 - AndrewMercer - DSC05441.jpg
Brisbane Anti-Racism Protest - 6 June 2020 - AndrewMercer - DSC05380.jpg
Brisbane Anti-Racism Protest - 6 June 2020 - AndrewMercer - DSC05387.jpg
Montage of Australian anti-racism protests on 6 June 2020. These images are from the Brisbane protest.
Date1–5 June 2020
Caused by
Cities in Australia in which a protest with about 100 or more participants was held ()

Shortly after protests seeking justice for George Floyd, an African-American who was murdered during a police arrest, began in the United States, people in Australia protested to show solidarity with Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement, and to demonstrate against issues with police brutality and institutional racism, racism in Australia, and Aboriginal deaths in custody. Vigils and protests of thousands of participants have taken part nationwide.

The COVID-19 pandemic made its way to Australia, with the first recorded case in January. By March, social-distancing rules were implemented and international borders closed to non-residents. March also saw lockdown, with services deemed non-essential by governments forced to close. In May, whilst Australia had flattened its curve, states still had various restriction and social-distancing measures, which included limits on gatherings.[1][2][3]

On May 25, US police responded to a callout. As a result, a black man George Floyd was arrested for allegedly using counterfeit money. Once restrained, George Floyd's repeatedly stated "I can't breathe" whilst a white officer knelt on his back until he died. When footage of the arrest and death was released, all officers affiliated with the arrest were fired. George Floyd's death was ruled a homicide by the coroner with charges being laid against the officers.[4][5][6]

The death of George Floyd lead to widespread protests in the US, as his death became a focal point for race relations, institutionalised racism and police brutality. Police brutality in the United States was a longstanding social issue with activists often protesting against excessive force and high incarceration rates of African Americans.[7] Aside from solidarity with US protesters, these themes also resonated in Australia, where the media considering similarities with Aboriginal deaths in custody and wider social issues faced by Indigenous Australians.

Oppression of Indigenous Australians is a prominent theme in Australian history. Despite encountering Indigenous Australians upon their arrival, members of the First Fleet invoked the principle of terra nullius to claim the continent. This was followed by a long period of recurrent massacres and violent conflicts. By the 20th century, the Australian government adopted a policy of forcibly separating mixed-race Indigenous children from their families, which remained in place until the 1970s.[8][9][10]

In 1987, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was appointed to investigate 99 cases of Aboriginal deaths in custody during the 1980s. As of 5 June 2020, an additional 434 Aboriginal Australians had died in custody since the commission's findings were handed down in 1991.[11] As of 2016, while Indigenous Australians accounted for roughly 2% of Australia's total population, they made up 27% of the national prison population, with incarceration rates rising markedly in the preceding decade.[12]

The George Floyd protests in Australia often referenced recent instances of Aboriginal deaths in custody. These include: the 2014 death of Ms Dhu in police custody;[13] the 2015 death of David Dungay (whose final words were "I can't breathe") in a prison hospital;[14][15] the 2017 death of Tanya Day in a police cell;[16] and the forceful arrest of an Aboriginal teenager on 1 June 2020.[17]

Many Indigenous people have been frustrated that it took the death of a black man in the US to bring the focus onto the injustices here in Australia.[18]


Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated his beliefs that violent protests would not create change. He warned against Australian demonstrations taking a similar course as "there's no need to import things happening in other countries."[19] Following major Australia-wide protests on 6 June, Morrison called them "completely unacceptable" and demanded an end to further protests. In addition to concerns around COVID-19, he stated that some protests had been hijacked by left-wing movements, and called for demonstrators at future events to be charged.[20] However, after being challenged on his assertion that there had not been slavery in Australia, Morrison acknowledged that "all sorts of hideous practices" had taken place in the past.[18]

The Labor Party did not directly criticise people protesting, but said that everyone should follow the authorities’ health advice. Senior Indigenous MP Linda Burney said that it was important for the media to focus on the issues, not whether people protested or not.[18]


Australian Capital Territory[edit]

New South Wales[edit]

Protests have occurred across the state, Australia's largest, to show solidarity with American protesters and to highlight the high rate of death among incarcerated Indigenous Australians.[22] The protests were preempted by an incident wherein a 16-year-old Indigenous boy was kicked and pinned to the ground by a New South Wales Police Force officer in Surry Hills.[23]

Protests that have occurred in the state have done so in violation of the state's coronavirus Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order, which bans gatherings of more than ten people outdoors for a common purpose without a reasonable excuse or exemption.[24]


Three major protests have been held in Sydney. The first was held on Tuesday 2 June, where 3,000 protesters peacefully marched from Hyde Park to Parliament and Martin Place, was held on Tuesday 2 June.[25][26][27]

The second and largest protest was held on Saturday 6 June, where at least 10,000 protesters gathered at Sydney Town Hall and marched to Belmore Park. The crowd chanted "I can't breathe" and held a moment of silence for George Floyd.[28] A counter-protester, who interrupted the protest by holding up an "All Lives Matter" sign, was handcuffed and removed from the protest by police.[28] A group of protesters was pepper-sprayed by police at Central Station following the protest, and Acting Police Commissioner Mal Lanyon later defended this action as an appropriate use of force.[29][30]

The protest caused significant controversy. Premier Gladys Berejiklian originally stated that she believed people had a right to protest, but later backflipped and deemed the protest 'illegal' and in violation of the state's public health orders.[31] Following this, the protest was subject to a successful legal challenge in the Supreme Court from the Commissioner of the New South Wales Police Force on the basis of health reasons.[32][33] That decision was overturned on appeal by the New South Wales Court of Appeal just minutes before the protest began.[34] The Court of Appeal – constituted of Chief Justice Bathurst, President Bell and Justice Leeming – overturned the decision of Justice Fagan on the basis that the protest organisers had complied with the necessary steps in order to gain approval to hold the protest in an authorised way.[35]

A third protest was held on the evening of 12 June in solidarity with protesters at Sydney's Long Bay Correctional Centre,[36] where Corrective Services officers fired tear gas on inmates who spelled out "BLM" on the prison yard.[37] Approximately 300 protesters met in Hyde Park because of a significant police presence at Sydney Town Hall, the original location for the protest.[36] 600 police were involved in policing the gathering, and one woman was arrested for failing to comply with a move on order.[38] Mounted police and officers guarded a large statue of James Cook located in Hyde Park on the night, which was later defaced.[39][40] A police officer was filmed making an OK gesture toward protesters,[41] a gesture which has been co-opted by the white power movement.[42] The Police Force denied that the officer used the gesture in an offensive way.[43]

Rest of New South Wales[edit]

Northern Territory[edit]

  • Alice Springs: 500 protesters gathered at the town's courthouse.[53]
  • Darwin: 1000 protesters gathered at Civic Park and marched through the central business district on 14 June, in a protest organised by members of the Larrakia people, who are the traditional owners of the Darwin area.[54] The protest was granted an exemption from the Territory's coronavirus health orders, which restrict outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people.[54]


South Australia[edit]


  • Hobart: About 3000 people gathered on the lawns in front of Parliament House in solidarity with the international George Floyd protests.[64] Hand sanitiser and masks were made available, and entry to the lawns was restricted at times to keep the crowd at an acceptable size.[64]
  • Launceston: About 300[a] people peacefully protested at a vigil in Prince's Square against racism and police brutality against minorities.[65] Protesters stood for 8′46″ of silence.[66] Speakers also covered issues Aboriginal Tasmanians face, such as Indigenous children being strip searched by police.[65] The vigil had been approved by the local health authorities, and hand sanitiser and masks were made available.[65]


Protest in Melbourne on 6 June
  • Ballarat: An estimated 350 protesters gathered at Alfred Deakin Place for a Smoking ceremony and silent protest.[67]
  • Melbourne: An estimated 7,000 protesters gathered at the Parliament of Victoria and marched to Flinders Street railway station on Saturday 6 June.[68] The organisers of the protest, the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, were each fined A$1651 for organising a mass gathering in violation of the Victorian Chief Health Officer's coronavirus directives,[69][68] which prohibited outdoor gatherings of more than 20 people.[70] Several days later, Victoria's Chief Health Officer revealed that one of the protesters had since been confirmed as COVID positive, though suggested they would have likely contracted COVID-19 before the protest (and may have been asymptomatic during it)[71]

Western Australia[edit]


  1. ^ An additional 100 people or so were viewing a livestream of the event.[65]
  2. ^ Sources vary in describing the attendance, from hundreds to thousands, with The West Australian reporting "hundreds",[73] Special Broadcasting Service reporting "[a]bout 2000",[74] and The Age reporting "thousands".[75]


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Further reading[edit]