6 Jan 2019

Riot police flood St Kilda Beach for far-right rally

1:26 pm on 6 January 2019

Police have made three arrests at Melbourne's St Kilda Beach after hundreds of officers spent hours trying to keep a far-right rally and a counter protest apart.

Protesters clash at Melbourne's St Kilda beach.

Protesters clash at Melbourne's St Kilda beach. Photo: Twitter / @KieranBennett

The conflict spilled onto the road when far-right demonstrators attacked a car which was carrying a loudspeaker broadcasting "Sudanese are welcome, racists are not".

A huge police operation involved officers in riot gear and the mounted, canine and aerial branches.

Police arrested three people after spending hours keeping participants of a far-right rally apart from counter-protesters on the Melbourne beach.

At a press conference just after 5:00pm on Saturday, Superintendent Tony Silva said one person had been arrested for breaching their bail conditions, one person was arrested on a drug charge and another was charged with possessing a dangerous article, being "a number of large fishing sinkers".

An unspecified number of others were temporarily detained over public order incidents before being released.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has thanked police for their efforts dealing with "ugly racial protests" on St Kilda Beach yesterday, after some demonstrators were seen making Nazi salutes.

"I thank [Victoria Police] for their efforts dealing with the ugly racial protests we saw in St Kilda yesterday. Intolerance does not make Australia stronger," Mr Morrison tweeted this morning.

"This has been achieved by showing respect for each other, our laws and values and maintaining sensible immigration policies.

"Let's keep it that way, it makes Australia stronger."

Counter protesters on St Kilda Beach.

Counter protesters on St Kilda Beach. Photo: Twitter / @KoparaFallsKid

The Prime Minister stopped short of condemning controversial independent Queensland senator Fraser Anning, who has attracted criticism from a number of colleagues in Canberra for attending the rally.

Controversial independent Queensland senator Fraser Anning attended the rally, saying he went to support the "Vietnamese community" being attacked by "African gangs" in a Facebook post.

Mr Anning's time in Federal Parliament has been tumultuous, with him leaving One Nation just hours before being sworn in to the Upper House after a spat with leader Pauline Hanson.

After a short stint as an independent, he joined Katter's Australia Party (KAP) and was criticised for using the term "final solution" during his first speech on migration, which led to his expulsion from the party more than a week later.

Organiser of the rally Neil Erikson, who has been convicted of inciting contempt towards Muslims, thanked Mr Anning for his attendance at the event.

Mr Erikson was found guilty of inciting serious contempt of Muslims in 2017, after staging a mock beheading to protest against the building of a mosque in Bendigo in central Victoria.

Last Friday, Mr Erikson filmed a group of men playing soccer at St Kilda Beach, refusing multiple police requests to stop recording.

A video of the incident posted on social media showed young men playing soccer on the St Kilda foreshore. A group of far-right activists, led by Mr Erikson, refused requests from the group and police to stop recording and a dispute broke out, during which police allege a 25-year-old man from the football-playing group assaulted an officer.

Last year Mr Erikson approached former Labor senator Sam Dastyari in a pub and called him a "terrorist" and a "monkey".

Independent senator Derryn Hinch and the Greens' Sarah Hanson-Young criticised Mr Anning on Twitter, while a number of federal Labor politicians came out against the senator.

Labor MP Tim Watts wrote that the far-right protesters "hate the diverse, inclusive country that Australia has become" and that their objective was "to intimidate minorities".

"We need to be clear about the contempt and revulsion that we feel, as a community and a nation, towards these people," Mr Watts posted on Facebook.

"None of us should be silent in the face of this threat."

Newly elected MP Kerryn Phelps praised demonstrators who showed up to oppose the rally, saying the country's political leaders needed to be more pro-active in speaking out against a rise in anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi behaviour.

"I think we should call out this rally for what it is. It is a demonstration by a neo-Nazi group where you're seeing 'heil' salutes," she said.

"We know there's a rise of Nazism in countries, particularly in Europe.

"I think we should be very concerned about this in Australia. We need leadership to call it out for what it is - right-wing extremism."

Federal Minister for Immigration David Coleman also tweeted to condemn the rally "in the strongest terms".

"There is no place for racism in our nation. We are the most successful multi-cultural society in the world, and we have achieved that by working together to build a stronger Australia," he tweeted on Sunday morning.

Last week's incident prompted Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville to warn that people inciting violence would be held to account by police and the law.

"I want people to let police get on and do their job of keeping our beaches and our streets safe, which they do a great job of," she said.

"I would encourage all people not to attempt to incite violence and cause trouble on our beaches or our streets."

St Kilda Beach has been the subject of an increased police presence and a local council crack-down on public drinking this summer, following a number of violent incidents.

Superintendent Silva described keeping the groups apart at the rally as a "challenge", remaining on the scene until about 4:30pm until police deemed it was safe for officers to stand down their operation.

However, he said he was generally pleased with how the afternoon played out.

"I certainly felt that we had it under control," he said.

"To my knowledge there was no injuries, both to any of the public and also the police.

"So, to me, that's a very successful day."

When asked if he had intelligence to suggest the protests would become a regular event, Superintendent Silva said: "I honestly hope it's not."

"It's taken a lot of police resources to control this protest today.

"But people have a right to protest - this is their human right as people have a right to walk along the St Kilda foreshore."

Superintendent Silva said police would step up patrols in St Kilda tonight to ensure there are no outbreaks of violence.