A man has been arrested and two people are injured after a scuffle between police and protesters during an Australia Day march in central Sydney.
Thousands of demonstrators were walking west along Broadway, towards Victoria Park, on Thursday afternoon when one of the marchers tried to light an Australian flag, witnesses said.
A group of officers from the Public Order and Riot Squad ran into the crowd and sprayed the area with a fire extinguisher.
As a smoky haze drifted over the crowd, protesters and police began shoving each other. Video shows some protesters were pushed to the ground.
Police arrested a 20-year-old man over the incident.
An officer was injured during the “brief scuffle” and was taken to hospital for assessment, a NSW Police spokeswoman said.
Paramedics assessed the officer for an injury to his ankle.
One of the protesters, a woman in her 20s, was taken to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in a stable condition after she fell and injured her head, a NSW Ambulance spokesman said.
As officers began to back away from the confrontation, the crowd began to chant: “Too many coppers, not enough justice.”
The “Invasion Day” rally began at The Block in Redfern just after 11am.
A tightly packed crowd of thousands listened to a speech by Ken Canning, from the Indigenous Social Justice Association.
Mr Canning told a cheering audience that “Australians have woken up” and now realise that Australia Day is a day of mourning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“That is not something to celebrate,” he said. “That is not a day to throw a shrimp on the barbie. That is not a day to go out and get blind drunk and start throwing up all over the footpath.
“It was an invasion. And it’s still going on today.”
Addressing a campaign to change Australia Day to a different day, which is gaining momentum, Mr Canning said no day was suitable.
“What day would I choose? My answer is none,” he said. “I wouldn’t choose to celebrate genocide on any day.”
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge joined the call to stop celebration on January 26.
“Whatever you call this day, it cannot and must not be called Australia Day,” Mr Shoebridge said. “We must demand an end to that.”
The protest’s organiser, Dave Bell, added: “It is a national disgrace to have a holiday on Australia Day”.
At the close of the speeches, protesters draped in Aboriginal flags marched from The Block towards the annual Yabun Festival of Aboriginal culture in Victoria Park.
Some held signs with slogans including “no pride in genocide” and “change is needed”.
As the march came to a standstill around halfway up Broadway, a witness told Fairfax Media the mood began to feel tense.
Tensions spilled over when the flag was allegedly sprayed with lighter fluid just before 1.20pm, causing the police to run in.
The altercation was filmed on phones by hundreds of people, as police officers standing on the fringes also filmed with camcorders.
Police said the 20-year-old man who was arrested at the scene was taken to Redfern Police Station where he is assisting with inquiries.
“The march concluded without further incident,” a spokeswoman said.
“This was an isolated incident in an otherwise peaceful demonstration. Overall police were pleased with the behaviour of the crowd.”
Canberra protesters call for treaty
In Canberra, hundreds of protesters marched from the Aboriginal tent embassy to the doors of Parliament House, rejecting plans for constitutional recognition and labelling Australia a racist regime.
“Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land,” they yelled as they marched on Thursday afternoon.
They then sat outside the front doors of the building for an hour, calling for a treaty as a line of police formed a guard blocking the entrance.
“What do we want? Treaty. What have we got? F— all,” they chanted.
Protester Les Coe urged the crowd to reject proposals for constitutional recognition and push for a treaty instead.
The Referendum Council appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in 2015 has begun community consultation on constitutional recognition, with a final report due later this year.
Mr Coe said he would attend those meetings to talk about a treaty.
“That’s what we should be doing at these so-called meetings,” he told the crowd.
“We’ve actually got to hijack this f—ing agenda and put on it what we demand. The only thing we want to talk about is a treaty.”
Mr Coe said Indigenous Australians would lose no matter how they voted in a referendum on constitutional recognition.
Aboriginal people should be asked whether they want constitutional recognition and be allowed to say “no”, he said.
He said the constitution was based on racial supremacy and warned against becoming “participants in our own destruction”.
“When they talk about constitutional recognition, there’s nothing in this for us.”
Canberra woman Claire Boyer, 24, who has no Indigenous heritage, believes the date of Australia Day should be changed.
“The history of genocide of Aboriginal people – we’re not going to celebrate that,” she said.
Politicians insisting Australia Day should remain on January 26 were ignorant, she said.
“Hear the call for change, hear the reasons behind that.
“That hurt is a very personal thing and the main thing that needs to change first is that white Australia needs to listen.”
As published in the Sydney Morning Herald, January 26. See the full article here