2,000 protesters defied stay-at-home orders for a second day to violently protest the closure of several construction sitesMelbourne police fire pepper balls, pellets as anti-lockdown protests turn violent
The leader of one of the most powerful unions in Australia slammed protesters as “drunken, fascist, un-Australian morons” after violent demonstrations, led by construction workers and bolstered by right-wing and anti-vaccine groups, saw rioters pelt union officials outside its headquarters.
Police fired pepper balls and rubber pellets on Tuesday to disperse about 2,000 protesters who defied stay-at- home orders to damage property, block a busy freeway and injure three officers, leading to more than 60 arrests.
Construction workers are incensed by the requirement that all staff must have received at least one jab by the end of the week in order to return to work.
While the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) does not support vaccination mandates, it has encouraged workers to get the jab.
Authorities also announced yesterday they would close down construction sites for two weeks, saying workers’ frequent movement was spreading the coronavirus.
Speaking to Channel 9’s Today show, union leader John Setka said he believed the protest had been “hijacked” by “extreme organisations” opposed to Covid-19 restrictions.
“There were a few anti-vaxxer activists there who are not union members or are from our industry. They’re the ones you see at all the protests,” he said.
“It just got out of control. Then they were consuming a whole heap of alcohol. Thanks to these morons, 300,000 Victorians are sitting at home for at least the next couple of weeks. It could drag out even longer.”
Protesters threw a crate at Mr Setka yesterday as he attempted to give a speech outside the union headquarters.
During eight hours of downtown protests on Tuesday, demonstrators threw rocks, bottles and flares at police, as television and social media showed video of marchers chanting and attacking police cars, surrounded by mounted police and officers in riot gear.
Channel 7 reporter Paul Dowsley was attacked twice by the crowd, with rioters throwing a can at the journalist as he was live on air.
“This was a very, very large and very, very angry group,” Shane Patton, police commissioner in the southeastern state of Victoria, told reporters, adding that at least three officers had been injured.
“And it was a challenging and confronting environment,” he added, urging people to stay away on Wednesday.
The forced closures of building sites will worsen Australia’s economic woes, with some economists forecasting the extended lockdowns could push the A$2 trillion (£1.06 trillion) economy into a second recession in as many years.
Australia has locked down its largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the capital, Canberra, to rein in an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.
But the tough curbs have triggered anti-lockdown rallies with police arresting hundreds in both cities over the weekend.
Tuesday’s 603 new infections in Victoria were the highest daily figure this year, with one new death was recorded.
Authorities have begun to ease some strictures on outdoor gatherings and exercise in Sydney and Melbourne as vaccination rates rise, with more freedom promised once 70 per cent to 80 per cent of adults in the population have received both vaccine doses.
Until now, 53 per cent have been fully vaccinated in the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, while in Victoria the coverage is 44 per cent.
New South Wales reported 1,022 new infections, the majority in Sydney, its capital, up from Monday’s figure of 935, and 10 deaths.
Even with the Delta outbreaks, Australia’s Covid-19 infections are lower than many comparable nations, with 88,700 cases and 1,178 deaths.