Australian minister calls anti-racism protests “self-indulgent”

Police spray protesters with pepper spray inside the Central Station after a Black Lives Matter rally in Sydney, Australia June 6, 2020. AAP Image/James Gourley via REUTERS

MELBOURNE, June 7 (Reuters) – Australians who defied public health rules and rallied in support of the U.S. “Black Lives Matter” movement were reckless and self-indulgent, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said on Sunday.

More than 20,000 people protested in Sydney and other cities on Saturday, in solidarity with U.S. anger over the death of a black man in police custody and calling for an end to similar deaths of indigenous Australians.

Demonstrators protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Sydney, Australia June 6, 2020, in this picture obtained from social media. RON SHAMGAR/via REUTERS

Cormann said the protesters risked a second outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

“I think it is incredibly selfish,” Cormann told Sky News. “It’s incredibly self-indulgent.”

Australia has had 7,255 cases of the coronavirus and 102 deaths, avoiding the higher tolls seen elsewhere because of border closures and strict social distancing since March. Small outbreaks, however, still emerge.

The protests came despite calls by authorities for people to stay at home and obey social-distancing rules that allow only for small groups to gather.

Cormann later told reporters that many Australians had lost their jobs, the economy had suffered and people had been unable to attend funerals of loved ones in order to stop the virus.

“But we are going to have a mass gathering of tens of thousands of people in complete breach of the rules that apply to everyone else, it is absolutely reckless and irresponsible,” he said.

The deputy leader of the opposition Labor opposition, Richard Marles, said he while he was “uncomfortable” with the protests, he was not casting judgement.

“If you are born indigenous in this country, your life stands to be materially worse than those of us who are born non-indigenous in terms of child mortality, education, employment and incarceration,” Marles said on ABC’s “Insiders” programme.

Protesters participate in the Black Lives Matter rally in Brisbane, Australia June 6, 2020. AAP Image/Glenn Hunt via REUTERS

“I don’t feel like I’m in a position to say to indigenous Australians who are protesting against that, that this is a selfish and indulgent act.”