Police have arrested 94 people, mainly in St Kilda and the Melbourne CBD, after small groups of protesters gathered around the city for another day of anti-lockdown rallies.
The majority of the arrests were made after about 50 protesters congregated on St Kilda Esplanade in inner Melbourne early on Saturday afternoon.
By the time a few dozen protesters had made their way to the foreshore, they were vastly outnumbered by hundreds of police officers, who had arrived earlier and set up roadblocks.
There were minor clashes on the esplanade, but the protest was quickly dispersed.
Police said people were arrested for breaching the Chief Health Officer’s (CHO) directions, as well as drug-related offences and outstanding warrants.
“All those arrested will be issued with penalty notices for breaching the CHO directions,” Victoria Police said in a statement.
They warned that protesters would continue to be arrested and fined if they were found to be in breach of directions.
The gathering followed small protests across Melbourne on Friday where more than 200 people were arrested.
The heart of Melbourne has seen protests throughout the week, which began on Monday with a violent demonstration outside the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) headquarters after the state government announced vaccinations would be mandatory for construction workers.
A larger rally on Tuesday included a number of anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protesters as well as far-right agitators, who shut down the West Gate Bridge as they marched across the CBD for hours.
The demonstration today had been organised by the anti-lockdown freedom rally movement, which has staged several protests throughout the pandemic.
A number of officers were out around CBD landmarks this morning and could be seen stopping and talking to people walking through the area.
In Adelaide, several hundred people attended a rally in Hindmarsh Square on Saturday, outside the offices of Channel Nine.
The gathering heard from speakers delivering anti-media messages, and some protesters held placards with messages opposing mandatory vaccination.
While there were moments of tension between some protesters and members of the media, South Australian police said the rally had happened without major incident and no arrests had been made.
Doctor urges community to rise above division
The Australian Medical Association’s Victorian vice-president Sarah Whitelaw said healthcare workers had been “watching in fear” as this week’s at-times violent protests unfolded.
“I think all of us have had such a difficult week and this pandemic has pushed all of us to the brink,” Dr Whitelaw said.
“This week has been a really difficult one for Melbourne. The violence is obviously horrible.
Dr Whitelaw said the potential of spread from the protests was “very, very real” and would likely be revealed in about a week’s time.
One protester who attended Wednesday’s Melbourne rallies was admitted to hospital after testing positive to COVID-19 and a small number of officers have been identified as close contacts as a result.
But, she said, being concerned about the possibility of superspreading events and the healthcare system being overwhelmed did not mean it was impossible to understand the “pain and the devastating impacts of lockdown”.
“We need each other more than ever and there’s no easy answers, there is not going to be an easy path over the next couple of months and I think watching those protests potentially divide the community has been devastating, not just for healthcare workers but also for all of us,” she said.