Pandemic protest met with counter-rally in CBD

Protesters flocked to the steps of state parliament from midday before marching through the city to Flagstaff gardens.Hundreds of police monitored the demonstration but only one arrest was made.Protesters chanted “Sack Dan Andrews”, “Save Victoria” and “Kill the Bill” as they shut down CBD traffic and public transport.Victoria Police said there was only one person arrested at the march.“Despite significant numbers in attendance, the protest was peaceful with only one arrest made,” a police statement said.Independent MP Catherine Cumming attended the rally and stood front and centre of the protest group posing for photos with a freedom banner.Libertarian Topher Field spoke at the rally and told the crowd “the future of our beautiful state hangs in the balance”.“Melbourne is rising, Victoria is rising,” Mr Field said.“When I spoke at the first lockdown rally in April 2020, there were 70 of us. Now there are 450,000. Daniel Andrews look at us, we are the captain now.“Dan Andrews thought he had this game won, until he got Somyureked. Dan Andrews we are rising to crush you.”A man named John who wore war medals encouraged attendees to “fight for freedom”.“Thank you for standing up for Australia today,” he told the crowd.“Australia has been willing to send troops all over the world, to now be fighting oppression in our own country is saddening.”A counter-protest organised by the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) in Carlton attracted around 300 people.Attendees carried signs saying “Melbourne is an anti-fascist town”, “neo-Nazis off our streets” and “stand against the far right”.Fears the two groups would clash and become violent did not eventuate. People at the anti-fascist rally, led by CARF organisers with megaphones, chanted “all you fascists – about to lose” and “you’re anti-vax, you’re anti-health – you can go f**k yourself”. “Anti-vaxxers you can’t hide – you’ve got Nazis on your side,” they also chanted.It comes after CARF worded up its “wonderful anti-fascists” ahead of their protest to “stop the far right”.Taking to Facebook, organisers told their followers they want the rally to be “loud and proudly anti-fascist” but not violent. “We don’t want any clashes with the right,” the post read. “We’re gonna spread our message through chants, placards and a rally through town.”“Let’s spread the word that Melbourne is an anti-fascist town.”They also told demonstrators not to travel into the CBD wearing left wing T-shirts.“Best not to alert right-wingers on the train to your presence,” the post added. Meanwhile, a social media post advertising the “world wide rally for freedom” told those wishing to attend to “leave a personal item on the steps of Parliament House to symbolise your trauma”.“Lost loved one: flowers. Lost job: work uniform. Lost childhood year: old toys,” the post read.One woman was questioned by police after seemingly infiltrating the march and antagonising some of the anti-fascists. The march has continued into Carlton, with demonstrators making their way down Lygon St. “Too many Nazis, on the streets of Melbourne. Hitler died years ago, who’s going to tell them?” they chanted. Carlton diners appeared confused as their Saturday alfresco lunches were interrupted by the loud march making its way down Lygon St. “The freedom movement’s full of trash,” the protesters chanted.The anti-fascist march came to a halt at the intersection of Lygon and Faraday streets. They then migrated to Lincoln Square in Carlton for further speeches, with the march continuing down Swanston St.Meanwhile, the freedom protest stopped traffic and public transport in Melbourne’s CBD for an hour before the group gathered at Flagstaff gardens about 1pm. HEFTY COST OF POLICING THE PANDEMICPolicing the pandemic in Victoria directly cost the force at least $117m in 2020 and is likely to have a significant impact on the 2021-22 financial year.It can be revealed more than 1500 police and protective services officers were pulled from regular duties at the height of the pandemic and were redeployed to hotel quarantine, border closures and CHO directive enforcement. The hefty bill covers the direct cost of PPE, travel and accommodation, IT devices, overtime for sworn members and the cleaning of stations, equipment and vehicles. Victoria Police was also required to patrol about 100 protests in the 2020-21 financial year, new figures show. It comes as police will be on high alert for violent clashes between opposing ideological groups in Melbourne’s CBD on Saturday, as the warring protest groups meet for the first time since the pandemic began. Protesters who oppose the government’s controversial pandemic Bill are due to gather from 12pm outside state parliament as part of a “worldwide rally for freedom”. The force said they were prepared for any violence that may erupt as the ‘Campaign Against Racism and Fascism’ (CARF) group plans to counter-protest on the corner of Russell and Victoria streets in a bid to “stop the far Right”. Authorities expect as many as 10,000 protesters to flood the city, in what will be the first counter-protest organised against the anti-lockdown group. CARF said their rally was part of a national day of “anti-fascist” action. “Their politics are deeply reactionary,” a spokesman said. “They stand against public health measures, including the restrictions and vaccines that have saved countless lives. While our hospitals and healthcare workers are being overrun, they celebrate selfish individualism that would see the bodies pile high as the virus rips through the community unabated.” CARF made headlines in 2015 in Melbourne as they regularly clashed with self-proclaimed “patriot” groups, including the ‘Reclaim Australia’ movement. “Relentless counter protests were how we defeated the far-right movement in 2015,” the group said. “To defeat the fascists this time we must build our forces and politically counter them.” The “freedom” group encouraged attendees to “leave your lockdown behind”. “Show the world the damage of unjust restrictions on freedom,” a statement said. Victoria Police said it was “committed to achieving financial sustainability”. “While we make budget allowances for critical incidents, no jurisdiction around the world could have predicted the global coronavirus pandemic or budgeted for the associated policing costs,” a statement said. “Victoria Police has been repeatedly called on to assist with the health crisis. The reality is this comes at a cost due to overtime, travel allowance, disturbance rates, meals and accommodation.“We also must protect our members through the provision of personal protective equipment, such as face masks, gloves and safety glasses.“Cleaning of police equipment, vehicles and stations is also necessary for infection prevention control, including after contact with members of the public who may have been exposed to Covid-19.”Victoria Police said it was “aware of planned protests” on Saturday. “We respect people’s right to peacefully protest without impact on the rest of the community and will not tolerate anyone who breaks the law or engages in violent or anti-social behaviour,” Leading Senior Constable Rohan Imms said. “There will be a highly visible police presence to monitor the area and ensure there are no breaches of the peace.”

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