More charges likely after ugly brawl outside church

LGBTQI+ and Christian activists clash at Mark Latham speech

More charges are likely after a violent clash between rival groups on a Sydney street near where NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham was to give a controversial campaign speech.

Two people have already been charged after the protest outside St Michael’s Church Belfield on Tuesday night, where Mr Latham had been invited to talk at public meeting about parental rights ahead of Saturday’s NSW election.

Mr Latham and LGBTQI+ activists have long clashed over gender issues, with the One Nation leader pushing for laws banning discussion of gender diversity in NSW classrooms.

Footage posted to Facebook by Community Action for Rainbow Rights, a Sydney LGBTI+ activist group which went to the church to protest what it expected to be an “anti-trans” speech, showed police separating the rival groups.

Footage also shows a woman being hit by a man, while another man is heard pleading with police to help leave the scene.

Police said riot squad and operational support officers were called in to disperse the out-of-control crowd of about 250 people on the street.

“We expect further charges to be laid today against a number of other offenders,” Superintendent Sheridan Waldau said.

“We believe the people who involved in the violent confrontation were attending the event that was to be held at the church hall.”

Superintendent Waldau said police were blindsided by the violence at the protest, which was expected to be peaceful.

Police shielded the protesters who had projectiles, including bottles and rocks, thrown at them by the other group.

A glass bottle struck a male constable who was taken to hospital in a stable condition with an injured hand, while a 38-year-old man was pushed to the ground and assaulted.

Mr Latham said he ignored advice to go home, instead proceeding with his speech inside the church hall. On Wednesday, he said a “flustered” police officer who told him to abandon his speech was “telling me something that was antidemocratic”.

It should be the role of the NSW Police to defend the rights of candidates running at a democratic election to exercise their free speech, and I did,” he said.

“The whole thing was a bad reflection on our democracy. It’s better for people to sort their differences out at the ballot boxes – as they’re doing right here at Cessnock pre-poll and on Saturday. Sort it out at the ballot box peacefully, the Australian way, the democratic way.”

mark latham speech

Riot squad and specialist police joined others in trying to quell the anger in Belfield on Tuesday night.

Premier Dominic Perrottet labelled the violence “disgraceful”, saying it was an aberration in a state election campaign that had been run in “great spirit”.

“There is no place for violence in our state … particularly during election periods,” he said.

“There should be a sense of respect and tolerance towards people with different views.”

Labor leader Chris Minns described the violence as unfortunate, saying he would “love to see a campaign where there are no scenes, where people can get the views out to the people of NSW to make their calls”.

Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich said “a small but loud group” of “cruel and lazy politicians” was targeting the LGBTQIA+ community.

“They are a disgrace and all major party political leaders should call it out and condemn it,” he said.

Greens MP Jenny Leong said violence was “never OK –  not on peaceful protesters – not on anyone”.

“One Nation representatives and the discriminatory views they spew out have a toxic influence on our society,” Ms Leong tweeted.

On Wednesday morning, police arrested two men.

A 34-year-old was arrested and charged with encouraging the commission of crimes. He will appear in court on April 11.

The other man, aged 41, was charged with common assault and will appear in court on on May 30.

-with AAP

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