Newman’s backflip over virus protest
Following threats he could be arrested, former Footy Show star Sam Newman has abruptly backed down on his call to arms to a quarter of a million Melburnians to protest against Stage Four lockdown.
"Of all the protests that we have put up with, how about ¼ million of us gather in the CBD to take the City/State back, before EVERY previous march will have been pointless," he posted to Twitter on Sunday, as anti-lockdown protesters clashed with police in the Victorian capital.
"And hopefully a State day of co-ordination. Any takers. #StateofSurvival."
The comments were slammed by many as irresponsible, with one accusing the former AFL champion of "inciting a riot" and another asking him to "just go away please".
In response to one critic, Newman called the protest "an expression of desperation for our sanity", vowing there'd be no "rioting, looting, arson or violence".
But it was a threat by Victoria Police that Newman could face the same fate as a number of other Victorians who have attempted to organise protests in recent months - and be arrested - that seemingly prompted the 74-year-old to change his tune.
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"It was hyperbole, it was an arbitrary figure," Newman told Sunrise this morning.
"I said wouldn't it be great to have 250,000 people wandering through the city - I don't encourage people to do that but it was just a sign that this government should cautiously reopen business enterprises in the city before it rusts over.
"I didn't encourage a quarter of a million people to march through the street … I said theoretically wouldn't it be a great idea.
"I'm not asking people to come from all over Victoria to protest and I'm not trying to get the police involved.
"If they want to arrest me and put me in jail for this, that's fine.
"But I'm not suggesting it and never did in the first place."
In a statement to 7 News after Newman's initial tweet, Victoria Police said they were "actively investigating those responsible and encouraging protest activity on Saturday".
"Victoria Police expects to make further arrests over coming days in respect to individuals suspected of inciting illegal activity," they said.
"Organising and participating in this protest would be a serious and blatant breach of the Chief Health Officer's directions and jeopardises the health of the entire community."
Anyone who still attends the CBD protest "can expect a swift and firm response from police", who will have "no hesitation in issuing $1,652 fines to anyone breaching Chief Health Officer directions or making arrests on the day if necessary".
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The AFL great has been an outspoken critic for months now of COVID-19 restrictions - particularly Melbourne's, which are among the harshest in the world.
In early August, he made headlines after griping that golf courses had been closed, going so far as to march on Victoria's Parliament House to demand the state's courses be reopened immediately.
He has also repeatedly criticised Premier Daniel Andrews' handling of the crisis, tweeting in early August that it was "lunacy" to close golf courses while bottle shops were free to trade.
This morning's interview was no different, with Newman saying there's "no reason" why businesses can't reopen "cautiously and with very careful planning", adding Melburnians have been "virtually locked up in a prison".
"So how about instead of announcing the COVID figures every other minute, about what's happening, someone comes out and says that it would be a good idea if we got back to reopening, rebooting the city," he said.
"It doesn't worry me if the city doesn't open, I don't have a business, I don't get a livelihood out of it.
"But it is nonsense to think we have to close down the whole of the central business district because we can't be assed, or can't be given free chance to cautiously reopen enterprise here in Melbourne."
Originally published as Newman's backflip over virus protest