Australians take to the streets in Victoria over government pandemic Measures

Protesters hold up placards during a rally against new pandemic laws and vaccination mandates in Melbourne on December 4, 2021. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

Victorians flocked to the streets over the weekend protesting the state's continued vaccine mandates and an upcoming law that will grant the Victorian government extraordinary pandemic-related powers.

For the fifth Saturday in a row, thousands took to the streets of Melbourne to express their opposition to the contentious Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021, which passed the upper house of the state Parliament on Dec. 2 following the lengthy debate and multiple amendments.

Victoria has become the first state in the country to pass pandemic-specific legislation, which will take effect on Dec. 16, the day after the current state of emergency expires. Over the last month, the legislation has been the subject of heated public debate and a series of protest protests in Melbourne's central business district.

One of the law's most contentious clauses vests the Victorian government with the final authority to declare pandemics and issue public health orders. Additionally, the law threatens stiff penalties for violating pandemic instructions.

On Saturday, demonstrators' signs changed from "Kill the Bill" in previous rallies to "Repeal the Bill," The legislation has been enacted and awaits royal approval.

Multiple social media videos showed thousands of people congregating in the Treasury Gardens and marching peacefully through the city to occupy the Flinders Street station crossroads. Demonstrators hoisted Australian flags, some of which were flown inverted to indicate a moment of crisis.

Victoria Police estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 demonstrators were in the city at the march's peak, around half the size of last week's rally.

According to the Australian Associated Press, a counter-protest in neighboring Carlton drew hundreds of people who carried posters advocating for vaccines and denouncing fascism.

An estimated 200 people gathered in Melbourne's Southbank headquarters of ABC News on the same day. According to The Age, the crowd chanted "liars" and "tell the truth" at the building's front entrance.

Craig Kelly, a former Liberal MP who is now running for the United Australia Party, spoke at Saturday's rally. The Member of Parliament for New South Wales criticized the Victorian government's vaccination mandate for "authorized workers."

"You cannot work in so many occupations without a government-issued license," Kelly explained, referring to the state's vaccination mandates for many workers. "That is undemocratic, unethical, and violates our human rights, and we should not tolerate it."

Kelly was also at a rally in Ballarat on Sunday. This city was the site of the 1854 Eureka Stockade, when miners demonstrated against the requirement for a license to work, among other harsh government regulations.

Australians have used the Eureka flag in recent COVID-19-related rallies to demonstrate their opposition to the government. The Herald-Sun claimed that hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the gold rush city on Sunday, waving Australia and Eureka flags.

Protesters gathered outside Ballarat Civic Hall, shouting "Free Victoria!" and "Jail Dan Andrews!" while brandishing anti-vaccine mandate banners. According to the publication, at least 70 police officers encircled the hall's courtyard and neighboring shops.

As the crowd rose in size, speeches were delivered before they continued through the CBD and the Ballarat skate park, where additional addresses were held, according to the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

According to the publication, police estimated over 1,000 people gathered in the Ballarat CBD, but no arrests were made. According to Ballarat Mayor Daniel Moloney, over half of the CBD's businesses were closed for at least part of the day in anticipation of the rally.

Thousands tuned in to independent journalist Rukshan Fernando's live streams from the Melbourne and Ballarat events. Throughout the weekend, videos were also disseminated across several channels on Telegram, an encrypted messaging service.

Separately, the Australian government gave preliminary approval on Sunday for Pfizer's Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to eleven years.

Victorians have endured some of the world's longest COVID-19-related lockdowns and most restrictive restrictions.

Apart from mandatory vaccination for many workers, anyone above the age of 12 in Victoria must produce proof of vaccination or an exemption to access most non-essential services and locations.

Publish : 2021-12-05 18:20:00

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