Bushfire protests targeting Scott Morrison to go ahead in Melbourne despite Victoria Police fears of 'resource drain'
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|Photo: Backlash against Scott Morrison's handling of the bushfire crisis prompted one artist to paint this in Tottenham, in Melbourne's west. (AAP: James Ross)|
Photo: Melbourne is no stranger to climate protests, with more than 100,000 people estimated to have joined the global climate strike in September. (ABC News: Andie Noonan)
The organisers of an anti-Scott Morrison protest planned for Melbourne on Friday say the event will go ahead, despite police asking them to reconsider the "resource drain" on a day when fire activity is expected to flare across Victoria.
The event, organised by Uni Students for Climate Justice, is one of several planned across the country on Friday and is expected to shut down parts of the CBD from 6:00pm.
But Acting Assistant Commissioner Tim Hansen urged "fair-minded Victorians" to reconsider attending the climate demonstration, which about 12,000 people have said they would attend on Facebook.
He said police were still actively engaged in supporting their emergency services colleagues in bushfire zones, working in fire-ravaged communities and facilitating evacuations while dealing with day-to-day policing.
"We will meet those obligations, but this is a distraction for us," he said.
"We see frontline police returning from the fire ground, returning from the fire zone that are fatigued, that do need a break, and this is now another operation we need to resource."
'Unprecedented times for emergency services'
Organisers say they are calling for all firefighters to be paid, aid for affected communities, an immediate transition away from fossil fuels, and the sacking of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Temperatures are forecast to again peak across Victoria on Friday, and it's feared that will help to generate more dangerous fire conditions.
Acting Assistant Commissioner Hansen said the "unprecedented times for emergency services" had prompted police to formally advise protest organisers to postpone, but they had responded with a "lack of flexibility".
He said other activist groups had been working with police to move planned protests from January, but Uni Students for Climate Justice had "refused to move the protest or re-shape the protest".
Group convenor Anneke Demanuele said the demonstration would be safe and peaceful whether or not police were there.
"It will be going ahead and I think a storm in a teacup has been created around this, which is actually just distracting from the real issues," she said.
"I think actually it's important we have these demonstrations. Because we're living in a climate emergency, a climate crisis. The bushfire season started earlier, it's more intense, and it's going to be ongoing.
"So we need to start the political movement now to demand adequate funding for firefighting services, to demand we transition away from fossil fuels … these national demonstrations I think are drastically needed so we can take real action around the question of the climate crisis."
Police want 'positive conversation' another time
The decision to proceed with the protest was criticised by both sides of politics.
"I'm stunned by it. This is a really reckless and selfish thing," Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said.
"Right now, when we have communities at risk, we've got thousands of police deployed to keep people safe, I don't want to see police pulled out of those communities to come in and manage a protest.
"I'm just stunned and I would ask them to reconsider. There is a time for protesting and that is not this Friday."
The Opposition's spokesman for police and community safety, David Southwick, said the protest was "a kick in the guts to our frontline officers and the broader community".
Acting Assistant Commissioner Hansen said police were "duty-bound" to protect life and property and prevent breaches of the peace — so would "absolutely" deploy resources to respond to all planned demonstrations.
He said the protest and debate about climate change was "a good, positive conversation for citizens to have".
"Our concerns of this particular protest is around the timeliness of it, and the resource drain that it's going to have on Victoria Police as we try to support our emergency services colleagues and those fire-ravaged communities to the east and the north of the state," he said.
Organisers promise rolling demonstrations over summer
The bushfire emergency has prompted a declaration of a state of disaster.
Hundreds of homes have been lost and entire towns have been evacuated.
Thousands of people said they would attend similar climate protests across the country in response to the bushfire crisis.
About 9,500 people have said they would attend the Sydney event at the same time.
Ms Demanuele said Uni Students for Climate Justice was planning "rolling demonstrations" across the country "until the Government actually listens to our demands and actually does something around the climate crisis".
"So you can expect people to be gathering in the cities over the summer," she said.