Hundreds of protesters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement have gathered in Canberra and other Australian capital cities on Friday morning, despite urging from the Prime Minister not to.
ACT Senator Zed Seselja said the protest in Canberra - where police have said they will not be focused on issuing fines for breaching social distancing rules - was "absolutely wrong".
He said that funerals in the ACT were restricted to 50 people and church services to 20. "It's really hard - it's an insult - to people who have not been able to farewell their loved ones properly".
And one of Canberra's leading ministers of religion said he was "disgusted" by and "incensed" at the decision. He said he supported the protesters' cause, but they should not be allowed to break the social distancing rules his church had to follow.
Protest organisers said the event, which began at 10.30am in Garema Place, would "show solidarity with the George Floyd protest in the USA and protest the institutionalised racism that Indigenous people face here in Australia".
The protests were also aimed at highlighting the deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in Australian police custody.
A number of people, including Senator Seselja and the Prime Minister have spoken out against the demonstrations, saying social distancing rules should be observed.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, "Our message is very clear, that the health risks of gathering in such large numbers and the risks of people coming into close proximity are real and Australians have worked incredibly hard in recent months and have undergone a great sacrifices to protect the health of the most vulnerable and that does include our Indigenous communities.
"For all of those Australians who couldn't attend the funeral of a family member or couldn't see a loved one in a nursing home or a veteran who couldn't remember their fallen colleagues by attending a war memorial service on Anzac Day, I think all Australian so all those other Australians agreed duty of responsibility and they say to them don't go.
"Let's say to those who had the absolute agony of not being able to say goodbye to a loved one, let's thank them by showing responsibility this weekend."
Marches are taking place across the country on Friday and Saturday.
"The health advice is very clear, that it's not a good idea to go."
Mr Morrison said the Chief Medical Officer would be standing up later today, advising the public of the AHPPC, the medical panel's expert advice, about gathering in large numbers.
"Let's respect those other Australians who have gone through such hardship," he said.
"Let's respect them.
"Let's find a better way and another way to express these sentiments, rather than putting your own health at risk, the health of others at risk, the great gains we have been able to make as a country in recent months, and let's not forget the terrible economic consequences of that as well.
"Let's not put that at risk, let's exercise our liberties responsibly this weekend and encourage people not to attend for those reasons and those reasons only."
Participants were urged to observe social distancing where possible, use hand sanitiser and wear masks.
"We felt it was safe to organise this protest as ACT currently has zero cases [of coronavirus], and so the risks are much lower than in the weeks before this," the organisers said in a statement earlier.
"However we are committed to reducing risk as much as possible [for participants]."
After speakers address the crowd, the group marched on to Parliament House.
ACT police said they were "attend[ing] and monitor[ing] the protests but will not be focused on issuing infringements for breaches of ACT Health directions".
"Vulnerable members of the community considering attending the protest should ask themselves if participating in a large gathering is safe for them," police said in a statement.
"Officers will allow people to peacefully make their point. While officers will be lenient and focused on educating the community about health directions, property destruction or other violent acts will not be tolerated."
The Reverend David Campbell said he officiated at a funeral on Thursday in which only 50 mourners and attendants were allowed.
He said that in normal times he would be on the street protesting against racism himself but not in the current semi-lock-down situation.
"I am incensed at this," he said.
"I can't have 51 people in my church to pay respects to the deceased person but people can go on the streets and there's no limit," the Presbyterian minister of St Andrew's Church in Forrest said.
"I feel that as a Christian minister, I am disgusted by this. My congregation will not be allowed to sing hymns and yet these protesters can go on the streets and shout and bawl and nothing can be done. I'm totally disgusted.
"I'm not against what they are protesting about. In normal circumstances, I would be out with them."
The Reverend Campbell came to Australia from Northern Ireland, which was riven by racist murder so he said he knew the cost of racism.
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- Stop stealing Aboriginal kids from their families
- We must bear witness to black deaths in our own country
- Now is the time to listen, not stand in judgment
- The decline of the USA has been a long time coming
- The fury in US cities is rooted in a long history of racist policing, violence and inequality
- Holding up a mirror to the face of Australia