An anti-lockdown protest is underway in Melbourne, where police have used pepper spray amid scuffles with demonstrators.
Anti-lockdown protesters, many refusing to wear masks, gathered at Melbourne’s war memorial are shouting “free Victoria” amid a strong police response.
Police have used pepper spray amid scuffles with some of the demonstrators at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, an AAP photographer on scene says.
Protesters number about 200 to 300 and are gathered for a “Freedom Day” rally in opposition to coronavirus restrictions in the city.
Several people have been arrested, including a man filmed by TV crews saying, “What are you holding me for?”
The protest started about 2:00pm and is one of the larger events of its kind over the past few months against Premier Daniel Andrews’s tough measures to control COVID-19 infections.
Protesters in the Shrine forecourt are holding placards with slogans such as “media is the virus”, “COVID-19 is a scam” and “wake up Aussies”.
Some are wearing t-shirts that say “let Victoria work”.
Many people have pulled their face masks under their chin or are not wearing them at all.
Officers have surrounded the protesters on foot, with more forming an outer wall, and many are on horseback.
Protesters could face two separate fines for attending the rally at the Shrine of Remembrance.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius warned that protesters could fall foul of legislation governing behaviour at the Shrine.
AAP’s photographer said on Friday that this legislation is being cited in arrests.
Premier calls protesters ‘selfish’
Earlier, when asked about the demonstration at his daily press conference, the Premier said the protest was unhelpful.
“Protests are not safe. Protests are selfish,” Mr Andrews said.
“Protests are potentially very dangerous to the strategy we have in place.
“We want to get the place open and make announcements on Sunday, and if people are out protesting, that does not help.
“I think common decency would see people only go to the Shrine when they wanted to remember and to appropriately commemorate the sacrifice of hundred of thousands of others.
That is what the Shrine is about — it is not about making political points one way or the other.”
While lockdown rules have been eased this week, Melburnians can still travel no more than 25 kilometres from their homes and are not permitted to have visitors to their home, except for permitted reasons.
They also can be fined if they gather in groups of more than 10 from more than two households, and must wear masks as well as social distance.
There were scuffles and several arrests last month as police broke up a protest at the Shrine.
A website for the protest tells participants: “Daniel Andrews must resign and lockdowns must end. Restore our freedoms now.”