Sam Newman has hit back at criticism that he tried to incite a mass protest against Victoria's tough coronavirus measures.
The controversial AFL identity was slapped down by Victoria Police mere hours after attempting to encourage up to 250,000 Victorians to protest the state’s stage four lockdown laws.
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The restrictions have been in place since August 2 and were initially slated to run for six weeks in a bid to curtail the spread of the coronavirus through Melbourne.
There has been no indication that they will be extended beyond the Victorian government’s initial six-week estimate, but this didn’t prevent Newman from taking to social media in an attempt to convince Victorians to ‘take the city back’.
Newman’s threats were met with a stiff response from Victoria Police, who reportedly told 7News that they are planning to arrest several people allegedly planning to ‘incite illegal activity’ by planning the anti-lockdown protest.
Newman's tweet about Melburnians standing up to the Premier's strict virus lockdowns sparked outrage on social media, with many labelling him "irresponsible" and a "disgrace".
Sam Newman you are a selfish pig an absolute disgrace, less than 1 week before we get the road map out and you are inciting these imbecile protesters to run amok, please deal with this fool @VictoriaPolice jail time https://t.co/BvIKAuCJf4— BluBoy (@blu_boys) August 31, 2020
However, the former AFL Footy Show host spoke on Channel Seven's Sunrise on Tuesday morning, denying suggestions he was actively trying to convince 250,000 people to march on Melbourne amid the virus crisis.
“It was hyperbole, it was an arbitrary figure,” Newman told Sunrise.
“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"— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) August 31, 2020
AFL great Sam Newman backtracks after being slammed for urging Melburnians to protest Victoria's coronavirus lockdown. pic.twitter.com/e6FoxoMbAN
Newman said his frustrations centred around Melbourne CBD closures and argued that businesses should be allowed to operate in a safe and controlled environment.
Newman wants businesses in Melbourne to re-open
"It is nonsense to think that we have to close down the whole of the central business district because we can't be given free chance to cautiously re-open enterprise here in Melbourne," he said.
Newman was forced to backtrack further on his explosive initial tweet when Sunrise host David Koch informed him that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had recently made that exact pledge to gradually re-open businesses in the Melbourne CBD.
"Well how refreshing that is, took him a while to announce that," Newman replied.
The Victorian state police said in the wake of Newman's tweet that arrests and fines would be handed out to anyone in breach of the state's lockdown laws, or found to be guilty of inciting illegal demonstrations.
“Victoria Police expects to make further arrests over coming days in respect to individuals suspected of inciting illegal activity, police 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.
“Those still thinking of attending the CBD to protest can expect a swift and firm response from police.
“We have no hesitation in issuing $1,652 fines to anyone breaching Chief Health Officer directions or making arrests on the day if necessary.”