Covid 19 coronavirus Australia: Melbourne erupts in violent anti-lockdown protests. Video / Tolga Kumova via Twitter
Violent scenes are unfolding in Melbourne for the second consecutive day as thousands of enraged protesters march through the city’s CBD.
At 10am today (midday NZT), hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Elizabeth St near the headquarters of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) – the scene of yesterday’s violent clashes.
They were met by a heavy police presence.
The crowd swelled to be thousands strong as it proceeded to march through the CBD, passing the state Parliament and Flinders St Station before turning back towards the CFMEU building. Some members of the crowd could be heard shouting “freedom” and “f*** the jab”.
As the situation grew more chaotic around 1pm, footage emerged of protesters pelting police with projectiles, including glass bottles and flares. Some members of the crowd approached with their hands up, chanting: “You serve us.”
Riot police responded by deploying tear gas and firing rubber bullets.
BREAKING: Protestors are now throwing glass bottles and other projectiles at police. @theheraldsun pic.twitter.com/WsSGfOqJnS
— Suzan Delibasic (@suzandelibasic) September 21, 2021
There was a particularly ugly incident at one point as some demonstrators accosted Channel 7 reporter Paul Dowsley.
“We were standing on a seat trying to get an elevated view as the protest group walked past. A few in that crowd had it in for mainstream media,” Dowsley recounted on air a short time after the attack.
“A man came from the side, grabbed me around the neck, and others then joined in a scuffle. I’m not sure whether they were maybe trying to protect me, or join in and maybe have a go at me. I’m not sure.
“But the outcome of that was us both, my cameraman colleague here and me, now being covered in what I believe is urine. I believe this has been thrown in my mouth, it’s all over me.
“A couple of protesters, I will note, in the minutes after stopped and came back to me, and said, ‘I hope you’re okay, that is not what we’re about, it should not have happened.’ They were absolutely appalled by it. As am I.”
In a second incident a short time later, Dowsley was forced to cut short a live cross after being struck in the back of the head by a can.
The organisers of today’s protest, headlined “Victorian Workers Rally For Freedom”, had promised the rally would continue until their demands were met.
“Bring your friends and family in support. Wear work gear. Bring food and drinks,” they instructed attendees on Telegram.
One post on the app outlined a list of “demands”, including the immediate removal of emergency state powers, an immediate end to lockdown, an end to mask and vaccine mandates, the resignation of Premier Daniel Andrews and chief health officer Brett Sutton, a royal commission into the government’s pandemic response, charges against police for “assaulting peaceful protesters”, a resumption of all construction sites and “mass distribution of Ivermectin, vitamin C, vitamin D an zinc”.
Tensions were further inflamed by the discovery of a man’s body at a worksite in West Melbourne, hours after the Victorian government announced a two-week shutdown of the construction sector.
The Herald Sun reports the man’s body was found at a site on Spencer St at about 7am this morning. It is suspected he took his own life.
“Sadly the man, who is yet to be formally identified, died at the scene,” a Victoria Police spokeswoman said.
One message circulating among construction workers in the wake of the news read: “Breaks my f***in heart. His blood is on Dan Andrews’ hands. May you rest in peace and your mind be at ease brother. Today we protest in your name and in your honour.”
In yesterday’s violence, CFMEU boss John Setka tried to calm the mob before retreating inside headquarters. He later said he believed the protest had been “hijacked” by “extreme organisations” opposed to Covid restrictions.
Speaking to Channel 9’s Today show this morning, Setka doubled down on his description of the protesters as “drunken, fascist, un-Australian morons”.
“There were a few anti-vaxxer activists there who are not union members or are from our industry. They’re the ones you see at all the protests,” he said.
“It just got out of control. Then they were consuming a whole heap of alcohol. Thanks to these morons, 300,000 Victorians are sitting at home for at least the next couple of weeks. It could drag out even longer.”
Protesters light flares in Melbourne’s CBD. Photo / Andrew Henshaw, NCA NewsWireSetka said the Government hadn’t consulted him about its shutdown of the sector but he didn’t think “they had much of an alternative but to do what they’ve done”.
“It’s unfortunate, because families rely on a pay packet every week. And the problem with it is, I think it’s going to be longer than two weeks,” he said.
“They can thank all the drunk morons yesterday. This lays squarely on their shoulders.”
Federal Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten, the former opposition leader, went even further in his condemnation of the protesters.
“There is a network of hard-right man-baby Nazis, just people who want to cause trouble. These man-babies, they want to complain about vaccinations,” Shorten said earlier in the programme.
“They deserve to get the full force of everything that’s coming their way.”
The Victoria Government announced its decision to suspend the construction industry for two weeks late on Monday night, citing the high transmission of Covid on construction sites and concerns about workers failing to comply with restrictions. Health officials estimate building sites are the source of more than 10 per cent of all cases in Victoria.
Protesters brawl outside the CFMEU headquarters. Photo / David Geraghty, NCA NewsWire
Only critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, will be exempt from the shutdown. As a result, about 300,000 people will be out of work, and the sector will lose almost half a billion dollars per day.
There’s also a brief amnesty to allow a limited number of workers to shut down the sites safely.
All construction sites will be required to demonstrate their compliance with the chief health officer’s instructions before they can reopen, including the requirement for workers to show evidence to their employer of having had at least one dose of the Covid vaccine.
Today Health Minister Martin Foley defended the Government’s decision.
“We’ve talked about Covid outbreaks on construction sites, one particular site so far having more than 150 direct cases linked to it,” he said.
“We have also reflected on poor levels of compliance with health directions and poor levels of application of CovidSafe principles and practices in multiple workplaces.
“The public health team was left with no choice but to hit the pause button.”
Jobs Minister Martin Pakula acknowledged it was a “sad day” for construction workers.
“A lot of people have been doing the right thing. Unfortunately, because of abhorrent behaviour and what we’ve seen, there is a need for the government to intervene and take strong action,” he said.
The Victoria Opposition has called on the Government to reverse its “panicked decision” to shut down the construction sector.
“The Liberal Nationals condemn the violent protests, but the actions of a few should not be used as an excuse to shut down an entire industry, putting tens of thousands of people out of work,” said industry spokeswoman Bridget Vallence.
Victoria recorded its highest number of infections in the current outbreak today, with 603 new locally acquired cases and one death.