ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja has accused the Barr government of hypocrisy after coronavirus restrictions were enforced in businesses but not the Black Lives Matter protests over the weekend.
Thousands of people gathered across the city on Friday and Saturday to call for an end to black and Indigenous deaths in custody, as part of a global movement ignited by the death of Minnesota man George Floyd at the hands of police.
Senator Seselja told Sky News on Wednesday there was a growing double standard in the way social distancing restrictions had been enforced.
The ACT's hotel lobby has echoed Senator Seselja's comments, as it argued there was no "legitimate, scientific or rational reason" why restrictions shouldn't be eased for pubs and clubs if mass gatherings were allowed to go ahead.
Senator Seselja was aware of one cafe owner in Canberra who was visited on "multiple occasions" over the weekend by officials counting the number of customers in store to ensure it did not exceed the government-mandated limit of 20.
In comparison, no sanctions were handed out at the protests.
You can't argue to me that it's not safe to have 21 people in a cafe in Canberra but it's safe to have 50 people in Queanbeyan. It doesn't pass the pub test.Senator Zed Seselja
He called on the ACT to "apply the standards fairly".
"I think the community is rightly very angry at the double standard that's been applied," Senator Seselja said.
Senator Seselja also said it was "time to ease some restrictions not backed by science".
He said it defied logic that you could have 50 people in a pub a few kilometres away in Queanbeyan, but only 20 people in Canberra - a jurisdiction with no community transmission of the virus and only one active case.
"You can't argue to me that it's not safe to have 21 people in a cafe in Canberra but it's safe to have 50 people in Queanbeyan. It doesn't pass the pub test," Senator Seselja said.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr dismissed Senator Seselja's concerns.
"It will be front page news to everyone that Senator Seselja has had an epiphany and is now calling for policy backed by science. That hasn't been his approach to climate change or energy policy," Mr Barr said.
"If the senator has a serious problem with the AHPPC advice to national cabinet then I suggest he raises those concerns, based on his epidemiology qualifications, with chief medical officers."
Mr Barr previously cited health advice which said a gradual easing of restrictions was the best way to manage the risk of a second wave of infection.
"The pandemic is not over and we have a responsibility to reopen our schools and businesses safely without compromising all the hard work of the Canberra community," Mr Barr said last Thursday.
"Its important that we continue to listen to the advice of health experts as we reopen our economy to avoid future waves of the virus and a return to more stringent restrictions."
Earlier this week, Mr Barr said he supported the right to protest.
He described the cause driving the Black Lives Matter protests as a serious and legitimate matter which was as relevant in Australia as it was overseas.
But he said protesters and organisers had a responsibility to take appropriate health precautions, which included getting tested for COVID-19 if they felt ill after attending the rallies.
Australian Hotels Association ACT general manager Anthony Brierley said there was no reason why hospitality venues should not be allowed to operate under the same standards permitted for the protesters.
Mr Brierley, who strongly supported the cause behind Friday's protest, said there was "hurt and frustration" that the sector continued to be "the public health lobby's sacrificial lamb".
He said he had been asked whether the apparent double standard was grounds for launching a class action against the ACT government.
"We've been told that every decision is made on the basis of public health advice," he said.
"That's bulldust. It is incomprehensible that the advice says that 21 people within a large hospitality space is riskier than 1000 protesters side-by-side.
"I do not believe that ACT-specific public health modelling even exists. If it did, it would have been released by now. We have been sold a pup."