Thousands of protesters have taken to Melbourne’s streets in the latest of now-weekly demonstrations against vaccine mandates, vaccine passports and the state government’s management of the pandemic.
Crowds have gathered outside Parliament House, while a counter-protest railing against far-right elements of the “freedom” protest is also underway a few blocks away in Carlton.
Saturday is the first mass demonstration since the Andrews’ government controversial pandemic bill became law after passing Parliament on Thursday.
There have been many anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne over the past 18 months, but the pandemic legislation galvanised the “freedom” movement over past six weeks, bringing tens of thousands out for mass weekend protests. A smaller contingent of protesters camped out on the steps of Parliament House as the at-times toxic debate played out.
Participants have included Victorians who have lost work due to vaccine mandates, some QAnon conspiracy theorists and in recent weeks several prominent far-right, anti-Semitic figures and members of neo-Nazi organisations.
Ex-Liberal MP turned United Australia Party candidate Craig Kelly has been promoted as a key speaker at Saturday’s protest. Clive Palmer’s party has recently joined forces with the largest “freedom” organisation – Reignite Democracy Australia. This week RDA has been banned from Facebook and YouTube for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines.
Victoria’s new pandemic laws will shift the responsibility to declare pandemics and issue health orders from the chief health officer to the premier and health minister after existing state of emergency powers expire on December 15.
After a month of debate and amendments, the bill eventually passed the upper house, 20 votes to 18, on Thursday, thanks to crossbench support from Greens leader Samantha Ratnam, the Reason Party’s Fiona Patten, Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick and Transport Matters representative Rod Barton.