Mr Andrews said police had made the “challenging” decision not to fine protesters so long as they followed social distancing rules. He said this was “better than seeing that gathering on Saturday deteriorating into the scenes we’ve seen overseas”.
“Victoria Police has made a difficult judgment about what is most likely to lead to a peaceful protest,” Mr Andrews said.
“There are a number of people who are determined to be there on Saturday. I’m advising against that, but they’re going to be there. So the question then is, do you lock people up? Do you inflame what is a pretty volatile situation given the depth of feeling on these issues?”
He said police were taking a “common sense” approach, but reiterated that if it’s “not peaceful, then it isn’t a protest”, and police would respond swiftly to bad behaviour.
“I understand the issue and how deeply moved people are about what has happened overseas… But don’t repeat the scenes we have seen in the US – that is not us,” he said.
More than 37,000 people have registered their interest in attending the protest, which has been organised after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
Overnight, Victoria recorded eight more cases of COVID-19, with the bulk of those positive tests coming from returning overseas travellers in quarantine.
Mr Andrews told a press conference on Thursday morning that six of the new cases were people currently in hotel quarantine.
One new positive COVID-19 result was a close contact of a confirmed case, while another person was found to have the virus after community testing.
Mr Andrews said around 536,000 tests had been completed in Victoria, which was a “stunning effort”.
“I’ll take the opportunity to thank all Victorians for following the rules and making a profound contribution. Those results give us the best way forward… based on the data and science, on when to change social distancing restrictions,” he said.
Victoria has now recorded 1678 cases of COVID-19.
The state government also announced that all four of the Metro Tunnel’s tunnel-boring machines are now digging twin tunnels across Melbourne, with a tunnelling machine named Meg being launched from the Arden site in North Melbourne.
The government says the project is still on track to be completed by 2025, ahead of the original 2026 deadline.
The state government is still in negotiations with the project’s builders about up to $3 billion in blown-out costs and it is believed that the parties are close to reaching an agreement.
The Premier said talks were continuing but refused to say when they would be finalised.
“We’re still having some discussions with the contractors. When they’re finalised we’ll be in a position to make some announcements,” Mr Andrews said.
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Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Timna Jacks is Transport Reporter at The Age