An anti-lockdown rally has turned ugly in central Melbourne, with police surrounding protesters and making more than 400 arrests.
Despite restrictions easing in Melbourne last week, protesters angered by the months-long coronavirus lockdown gathered in their hundreds outside Victorian Parliament on Tuesday.
They held up posters with slogans “Sack Dan”, “Tell the Truth” and “Corona Hoax 1984” before breaking into chants for “freedom”.
Under the city’s latest rules, Melburnians are allowed to protest in groups of up to 10 as long as they are within 25 kilometres of home and follow other health directions including social distancing.
Police formed a circle around the large group just after midday, arresting 404 protesters.
Of those, 395 will be issued with fines for mask offences, breaching public gathering directions, travelling 25km from home, assaulting police and refusing to state their name and address.
A female senior sergeant was taken to hospital with a suspected broken arm after an arrest.
In another, a male officer fell to the ground after appearing to get into a scuffle with a protester who was then pinned to the ground and arrested.
Capsicum spray was used to disperse the crowd, with paramedics assessing a protester’s eyes.
#UPDATE: 404 people were arrested at today's anti-lockdown protest, 395 were fined.
— 9News Melbourne (@9NewsMelb) November 3, 2020
Health Minister Martin Foley said keeping Victoria safe and open was more important than the democratic right to protest.
“People who want to get around the rules, in smart-alec approaches, are just asking for trouble,” he told reporters before the demonstration.
“Don’t protest. Now is not the time to protest. Keep safe, follow the rules and keep us open.”
Opposition police spokesman David Southwick agreed, though suggested there was “confusion” over police enforcement of protests while referencing the Black Lives Matter rally in early July.
“It does seem in Victoria (there are) one set of rules for one lot of people but another set of rules when you’re protesting against Daniel Andrews,” the state Liberal MP told reporters.
It was a view echoed by Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick, who attended the rally.
“Were they treated differently? Absolutely yes. Shocking,” he tweeted.
The group behind the movement has pledged further rallies, saying protesters won’t forget the more than 100 days the city spent in lockdown.
“We are not dissuaded,” it said in a statement.
“We keep fighting till Daniel Andrews is gone.”