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Australia Andrews condemns 'terrible behaviour' as protesters storm through Melbourne's CBD

13:52  21 september  2021
13:52  21 september  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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More than 1000 protesters shouting anti-vaccination messages have marched through Melbourne's CBD, as the construction industry reels from a snap two-week shutdown imposed overnight.

After spending several hours roaming around the CBD, the crowd marched down the West Gate Freeway, forcing police to divert traffic.

After marching onto the West Gate Bridge, the protesters turned back into the city and were met by a line of riot police, who appeared to fire tear gas or rubber pellets at the crowd.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said managing the mostly male crowd of around 1,000 to 2,000 people had proved challenging for the roughly 500 officers who responded.

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"Any police force would have been challenged by the spontaneity and the sheer mass of numbers we saw from this group, and the tactics they employed throughout the day," Commissioner Patton said.

"Crowds like this, they're for cowards. Cowards who seek to hide their identity and conduct other activities, to do other things that if they were by themselves they wouldn't have the courage to do."

He said three officers were injured, one rolling their ankle, one hyper-extending their knee and one hit in the shin with a rock.

Commissioner Patton said specialist teams used pepper balls, foam baton rounds and smoke rounds to control the crowd throughout the day.

Police also used stinger grenades, which deploy rubber pellets.

Commissioner Patton said the measures were justified given the challenging circumstances.

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"These crowd control equipment munitions were necessary and they are necessary, because we can't allow this kind of conduct to go on," he said.

Commissioner Patton said more than 500 police would also be deployed in the CBD tomorrow to deter protesters in light of intelligence stating more demonstrations may occur.

He said Victoria Police's tactics would differ from Tuesday's response, but did not expand on what that would mean.

Commissioner Patton said 62 arrests had been made so far, with the majority of those arrested fined for breaching CHO directions.

Police cars attacked during hours-long march through CBD

The protesters first gathered outside the CFMEU headquarters around 10:00am before making their way to Parliament House.

Some of those gathered held a banner reading "freedom", while others sang the national anthem and chanted "f*** the jab".

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Several protesters identified themselves as construction workers and CFMEU members who opposed mandatory vaccinations.

It came as thousands of construction workers in metropolitan Melbourne and some parts of regional Victoria were stood down after the state government shutdown was announced last night.

Flares were let off as the crowd began to march east along Victoria Street towards Parliament House.

Mounted and riot police lined the steps of the Victorian Parliament as hundreds of protestors gathered outside.

Some members of the group called for police to join their cause, while others urged Premier Daniel Andrews to come outside the building.

In a statement, Mr Andrews thanked police for their response and condemned the violent clashes at this week's protests.

"There is no excuse for the terrible behaviour we have seen in our city over the last two days," he said.

"Acts of violence and disruption won't result in one less case of COVID — in fact it only helps the virus to spread."

During the day, protesters cornered police vehicles on a CBD street near Carlton Gardens, throwing projectiles and smashing windows. 

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Police were able to repel the crowd and appeared to fire rubber pellets at the protesters.

Reporter attacked by protesters with urine, drink can

During the protests, Channel 7 reporter Paul Dowsley was physically attacked multiple times by protesters, which included having a can of drink thrown at the back of his head while he was presenting live on camera.

“I’ve been grabbed around the neck today, I’ve had urine tipped on me, and now I’ve had a can of energy drink thrown on me,” he said.

Mr Dowsley’s bleeding head was shown on camera.

At anti-lockdown protests held on Saturday, a newspaper photographer was pepper-sprayed by police. That incident is still being investigated.

Polwarth Liberal MP Richard Riordan described the level of security at Parliament House as a "distressing sight".

Mr Riordan linked the scenes of "frustration and anger" with an "unsatisfactory road map" released on Sunday.

The Victorian government said there were 337 active cases of COVID-19 spread across 154 building sites since early August.

Treasurer Tim Pallas said 50 per cent of inspected construction sites had failed to meet safety requirements, making the shutdown necessary on public health grounds.

"The construction industry must take this opportunity to reset and restart," he said. "The industry cannot go back to the way things were being conducted ... it was a threat to public health in the most dramatic of terms."

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Mr Pallas characterised the crowds gathered to protest mandatory vaccination as a "concoction of anti-vaxxer, anti-science" extremists who posed a major risk to the community.

"An anarchist rabble wandering around the city, vandalising, assaulting. Causing pain, mayhem and chaos, and they're revelling in it," Mr Pallas told ABC Radio Melbourne.

"They are causing a greater risk to public health every day they do it, and they don't care."

The Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has called on those protesting to "stop the violence and put the health and welfare of the Victorian community first".

"Nurses, midwives and carers are exhausted and frustrated as they watch protesters fight for their right to overwhelm our health system," the union's Victorian secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said.

Government says 'appalling behaviour' led to shutdown

Monday's action, which drew around 500 people to the CFMEU headquarters, was organised to oppose a Victorian government mandate requiring all construction workers to have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by September 23.

An angry crowd threw bottles and a crate at Victorian CFMEU construction secretary John Setka when he tried to address the protest.

Last night, Treasurer and Industrial Relations Minister Tim Pallas said the decision to close construction sites in Melbourne, Ballarat, Geelong and the Mitchell and Surf Coast shires for a fortnight was in response to "widespread noncompliance" across the industry.

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The government also cited "the appalling behaviour on site and on our streets" in making its decision.

CFMEU boss says 'professional protesters' are driving demonstrations

This morning, Mr Setka said he believed only a small number of protesters who were at the union headquarters yesterday taking part in the violent protest were actually union members.

"There were some union members there but, in the whole scheme of things, they weren't the majority there," he said.

Mr Setka said "professional protesters" who had been involved in violent clashes with police in Richmond over the weekend were part of the crowd outside the CFMEU offices on Monday.

He said the actions of people who were mostly not union members or construction workers had led to the industry shutdown.

"We've kept our industry going safely since COVID hit us and we've tried to keep our members all working, and to now see, because of a handful of drunken idiots, there's 300,000-plus workers sitting at home for at least the next two weeks, it's very disappointing," he said.

Mr Setka said he had never backed mandatory vaccinations, but the union was pro-vaccination.

"We run radio ads encouraging our members to go see your GP if you've got any concerns, and get vaccinated," he said.

He said it was still important to "respect the rights of people who have a genuine concern".

"Rather than force people to be vaccinated, we should take them on a journey, have the conversation with them and try to convince them," Mr Setka said.

He said the idea of employers banning unvaccinated workers from sites was "harsh" and he did not support it.

Labor MP Bill Shorten hit out at "man-baby" protesters who he said helped orchestrate Monday's protest.

Mr Shorten said while nobody wanted to see the industry shut down, there were a small number of people in construction who were making it "impossible and intolerably to function properly in the short term".

Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the government should try to introduce rapid testing on building sites instead of shutting the industry down at a cost of billions of dollars a week.

"The situation now needs union leaders and the government to sit down and calm the situation down and more the point to bring rapid testing onto building sites so that we can see which ones are the problem and shut those sites down on a site-specific basis," he said.

"That's what's being done and being planned in other states and I support that. That's in line with national cabinet guidelines."

Shutdown comes as 'bitter blow' to industry

Master Builders Association of Victoria chief executive officer Rebecca Casson described the shutdown as a "bitter blow".

She said it was particularly frustrating for those in the industry who had been doing the right thing and the association supported compliance checks.

"It's absolutely vital that all of those organisations that are not doing the right thing are held to account because they do risk our whole industry being completely shut down," Ms Casson said.

"Obviously it's bad enough that we've got only a few sections of our industry that are shut down this time with regard to those LGA areas but there are many others that can continue to work in some way, shape or form."

The organisation supported the mandatory vaccination rule introduced by the government and Ms Casson said she was sure workers could all get at least one dose in the next fortnight before resuming work.

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