23 Sep 2021

Victorian protesters condemned by Scott Morrison amid record new Covid-19 cases

1:35 pm on 23 September 2021
Hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters clashed with police in Melbourne, leaving at least four people injured and more than 200 arrested.

Hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters clashed with police in Melbourne, leaving at least four people injured and more than 200 arrested. Photo: AFP

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has condemned "disgraceful" and "disrespectful" protests at Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance, as protesters vow to continue the chaos.

His comments come as Victoria has recorded its highest single-day tally for daily cases, with 766 new Covid-19 infections reported this morning.

More than 200 people were arrested yesterday after a stand-off with police at the Shrine of Remembrance that lasted hours.

Two police officers were struck in the head with bottles during the protest, while another was admitted to hospital with chest pains.

Speaking from Washington DC, the Prime Minister said the Shrine was a sacred site and not a place of protest.

"The conduct was disgraceful," he said.

"It was disrespectful and it dishonoured those Australians who have made the mat sacrifice and I would hope any and all who were in that should be ashamed."

Protests against the coronavirus lockdown and mandatory vaccinations began on Monday after the Victorian government announced a two-week shutdown of the construction industry, and have grown in scope since then.

About 100 had gathered at the offices of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) this morning, with one person seen arrested.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

PM Scott Morrison called the protesters' actions disgraceful. Photo: AFP

Shrine of Remembrance chief executive Dean Lee said yesterday was a "troubling day" for the veteran community.

"We know what the Shrine means to the veteran community of Victoria and Australia and to see it disrespected in that way was very difficult for all of us," Lee said.

"I think if we are to ask ourselves what it is to be Australian, it's how we behave in times of crisis. This shows how we can be at our best when we want to behave in a way that brings us together.

"Those that seek to divide us in a time of crisis are not doing themselves any favours and not representing the best values of what it is to be Australian."

New agencies ABC, Nine News, and Seven Network are this morning seeking to have the no-fly zone over Melbourne's CBD repealed.

Yesterday, at the request of Victoria Police, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority declared the airspace a no-fly zone, preventing news television helicopters from capturing footage of the protests.

The no-fly zone covers a radius of three nautical miles from the CBD. Police helicopters are still allowed.

Links to far-right groups

Counter-terrorism expert Professor Greg Barton told ABC News Breakfast far-right activists were "directing, planning, [and] egging on the protesters".

"Some of them [protesters] may well be union members but others have come in and hijacked the opportunity," he said.

"They're trying to bend the curve in their direction. They struggle for relevance so they're trying to get attention because they want people to come and connect with them. They want to recruit. They want to groom and form friendships and slowly grow their groups.

"They've got a long-term plan and know that they're not going to achieve what they want straight away."

Professor Barton said media attention and provoking police into using "heavy-handed measures" would help their cause.

He said those pushing a far-right agenda were a small group but said the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attacks that killed 51 people died proved one lone actor could "cause immense damage".

"Longer term, the larger risk is just the corrosion of our social cohesion, turning ourselves against each other and fuelling hate."


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