A police officer was taken to hospital after dramatic clashes between cops and anti-lockdown protesters in the Melbourne CBD on Friday.
Sixteen people were arrested and 61 were fined by the time the protests wrapped up after 5pm, Victoria Police spokeswoman Leonie Johnson said.
“Three police officers were injured during the protest, with one taken to hospital as a precaution,” she said.
“Victoria Police will not accept the selfish behaviour of those who continue to breach the CHO (chief health officer) directions.”
Protesters were charged with a range of offences including not wearing a mask, breaching public gathering directions, travelling more than 25km from their home, assaulting police and failing to state their name and address, she said.
Police are investigating an incident where several police horses were hit in the face with a flagpole, and a separate incident where a police van was pelted with objects thrown by protesters.
“Thankfully, the horses were not injured during the assaults,” she said.
The so-called Freedom Day began at 2pm at the Shrine of Remembrance, where protesters gathered holding placards and giving speeches before being encircled by a line of police.
One woman with a megaphone, who was later seen being led away by police, told the crowd “There is no such thing as COVID-19” and “There is no emergency, there is no pandemic”.
“They are collecting our DNA”, she said.
“This is a control tactic – the whole thing is a scam.”
A police line blocked protesters from reaching the shrine and they then marched down St Kilda Road, blocking traffic.
A line of police horses prevented them from continuing past Flinders Street Station and Federation Square.
The march then followed the Yarra River before diverting into South Melbourne, ending about 5pm with a series of arrests.
Anthony Khallouf, who said he has been charged with incitement for organising previous protests, said he went on Friday because of the lockdown’s affect on him as a sole trader and personal trainer.
“My goals this year were to open up a gym and we got hardest hit at the very beginning,” he said.
“Our industry has always been neglected. There’s a lot of things that have been neglected.
“Our fitness industry is probably the safest industry of all industries.
“Is this really about health or is there an alternative agenda going on? I think the government is using this as an opportunity to empower itself.”
Mr Khallouf, who was holding a sign that said “The media is the real virus”, told NCA NewsWire Friday’s protest was a good opportunity to meet people from the internet.
“For us, it’s been a great opportunity to meet people that we’ve been connecting with online,” he said.
“It’s been good because meeting people that have like-minded views is what we want to do.
“I’m someone that never gets involved in politics or protests … and yet, when it personally affects you, you start to realise why people protest.”
Another woman sang a “COVID resistance national anthem” and the song ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ by Bob Marley was played on a speaker.
After the protest began just after 2pm, one man called police “tyrants”, “nothing but animals”, and “f**king idiots” before he appeared to be arrested.
Another man called police “paedophile enablers” before he was also apparently arrested.
Other protesters were brought to the ground by police after the circle blocked new arrivals from entering.
The Premier slammed protesters earlier in the day, branding the action “frankly shameful”.
Mr Andrews said it was disrespectful considering the shrine’s intended purpose of honouring those who died at war.
“The shrine is a sacred place and not only is it wrong to protest, it is not safe, it is unlawful and it is frankly shameful that anyone would seek to protest any issue at such a special place,” he said.
“Many, many people died to give people the right to protest – the least you can do, if you are determined to protest, is don’t go there.”
The protest on Friday – a public holiday in Victoria – is the latest of several anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne that have led to a heavy police presence, fines and arrests.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said on Thursday protesting was no longer unlawful if coronavirus restrictions were followed.
Melbourne residents can now travel 25 kilometres from their home, be outside in groups of up to 10 people from two households, with no time limit on being outside for exercise or socialising.
“(Protesting) is a human right and we’re now operating in a context where the chief health officer directions do allow people to leave home for recreation and for socialising, and people can choose if they want to, while they’re doing that, to also voice protest,” he said.
But Mr Andrews contradicted him on Friday morning, telling media protests were still illegal.
“Are protests still illegal under the CHO directions? Absolutely they are,” he said.
“Protests are not safe, protests are selfish.
“Protests are potentially very dangerous to the strategy we have in place.
“We want to get the place open and make announcements on Sunday. If people are out protesting, that does not help.”
In a press release, the protest organiser – who goes by “Guardian Angel” – said Mr Andrews was the reason for Victoria’s second wave because of the “bitter failure” of hotel quarantine and “under-resourced” contact tracing systems.
‘We are extremely concerned that if Daniel Andrews once again fails to contain future outbreaks, he will once again reinstate blanket lockdowns that do more damage than good,” the statement read.
“Victoria is battered and bruised, we can’t take any further abuse from our so-called premier.
“More than 100 days of lockdown could have been entirely avoided were it not for this man.”
A bus bearing the sign “I can’t stand Dan” near the shrine appeared, in a Facebook Live video, to be hit with an unroadworthy notice by police because of a faulty tyre.
The video was shared on the page Reignite Democracy Australia.