Freedom Protests or “Shameful” and “Selfish” Conduct? Police and Protesters Clash in Victoria

by Sonia Hickey & Ugur Nedim

Police and protesters have clashed again in Melbourne as hundreds of people demonstrated against coronavirus lockdowns, calling for an end to the harsh restrictions.

Video footage shows protesters chanting “democracy is essential” and “all jobs are essential”, before police officers swarm towards them and begin throwing punches.

Protesters then yell, “police brutality… this is police brutality” and those who are attacked respond in kind.

Ironically, the incident occurred near the Shrine of Remembrance – an icon of peace and a tribute to the sacrifices made by soldiers defending Australia.

Arrests and fines

Sixteen people were arrested and almost 100 more issued with penalty notices for a range of offences including not wearing a mask, breaching public gathering directions, travelling more than 25 kilometres from home, failing to state their name and address and assaulting a police officer in execution of duty. It’s possible that protesters could face further fines for allegedly breaking laws governing the area where the shrine is placed.

The protest was one of the largest of its kind in recent weeks and unfortunately, unlike previous protests during which protesters have been generally non-violent, there was an incident in which several police horses were struck in the face with a flagpole, but not injured. A police van was attacked by protesters and three police officers were injured and one was taken to hospital as a precaution.

These incidents have only served to deepen the divide between protesters and authorities, despite the fact that they are a clear sign of the increasing agitation and resentment Melbournians feel at having their movements monitored by police 24/7 and their freedom extremely limited.

Daniel Andrews called the protests “shameful,” “selfish,” and “unhelpful which does not in any way benefit the situation either. It only serves to make protesters feel like they are not being heard.

Life for Melbournians is still far beyond ‘normal’

It is difficult to determine the full impact of prolonged lockdowns on people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. Melbournians are also suffering an extreme feeling of isolation given that in other states and territories around Australia restrictions are much more relaxed and life is returning to a sense of normalcy.

It’s important not to lose sight of just how far beyond ‘normal’ the Victorian restrictions have been and what residents have had to endure. Added to this, the public health requirements placed on Victorians haven’t always been clear, have often changed quickly, and police enforcement has also been problematic and aggressive. Thousands of people have been served massive fines since March.

The worst part is there is no clear end date for the status quo.

While some restrictions have eased in recent weeks, in Melbourne, people are still not allowed to have visitors at home, must not travel more than 25 kilometres from home and can only gather in groups of 10 people or less in public places. They must wear masks in public and practice social distancing.

The greatest source of frustration for many is not being able to return to work. While some businesses have been allowed to begin operating, two of the state’s largest sectors – hospitality and retail, remain closed, for the foreseeable future.

Heavy police presence

In the city itself, the ‘ring of steel’ remains, and people are stopped and ‘checked’ going into and out of this precinct.

People are also angry that the second outbreak of the pandemic has been largely the fault of the government anway – it’s bungled hotel quarantine, and serious errors made in the aged care sector are public knowledge.

Calls for Daniel Andrews to resign

People feel like they are paying a very heavy price for error on behalf of the people who were supposed to protect the state, and many now want Daniel Andrews to resign.

A change.org petition has more than 70,000 signatures calling on Daniel Andrew to resign, but despite looking worn and weary, he shows no signs of backing down, nor bowing to pressure from the Federal Government to change any of his decisions.

Authors

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with over 20 years of experience as a criminal defence lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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