The Andrews government has swiftly shut down Melbourne’s construction industry for two weeks after a protest over mandated vaccinations turned ugly.
Industrial Relations Minister Tim Pallas on Monday night confirmed the ruling, which took effect from midnight, would impact Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire.
“We’ve been clear: if you don’t follow the rules, we won’t hesitate to take action – we have seen widespread non-compliance across the industry and that’s why we’re taking necessary steps to protect every single Victorian,” he said in a statement.
“We put the industry on notice just a week ago, we have seen appalling behaviour on site and on our streets, and now we’re acting decisively and without hesitation.”
Only critical infrastructure, including hospitals and ongoing level crossing removal works, will continue during the shutdown — giving time for the workforce to get vaccinated.
The construction industry has been a sector with high spread in this outbreak and all sites will need to demonstrate compliance with the Chief Health Officer’s directions before reopening.
This includes the requirement for workers to show evidence of having had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before they return to work on October 5.
The closure was announced on Monday night after the CFMEU’s Melbourne headquarters was damaged and riot police deployed in chaotic scenes.
The union says the violent protest was hijacked by outside extremists from Neo-Nazi and right-wing groups who been trying to influence blue-collar unions.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil told ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday that extremists were using the union movement to create division and spread misinformation but unions would “not be intimidated”.
“There were some union members there, but what I would say was there were many many more union members in the construction industry yesterday lining up to get their vaccinations all over the state and all over the country,” said Ms O’Neil.
“So the small number of union members that were there (at the protest) were, as I said, part of something that is not in their interest and not in any worker’s interest.
“Because misinformation, division and violence is unacceptable.”
Monday’s mob rage intensified when two union officials, including Victorian construction branch secretary John Setka, came outside the Elizabeth Street office to speak to protesters just before midday.
Mr Setka was met with boos and insults from the crowd, while some protesters hurled bottles.
“Please calm down. Can you at least give me the respect to talk? We’re not the enemy, I don’t know what you have heard,” he told protesters.
“I have never, ever said I support mandatory vaccination.”
Once Mr Setka went back inside, the protesters smashed a glass door to the building.
Rain and hail did not deter the protesters, many still rallying in the streets until dark, most displaced by police who used rubber bullets and pepper spray to control the angry mob.
Some said they would come to the CFMEU office every day until the union bows to their demands.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus told ABC’s 7.30 program on Monday night that safety should remain the priority of the construction industry.
“Safety has got to come first. This is a matter of life and death. And having an industry open is important. In the case of construction, it’s one that if…you keep it going it’s great for the economy but not at the expense of safety,” Ms McManus said.
Ms McManus said the ACTU supported vaccination and that the discontent was being fomented by right-wing groups that have been targeting blue collar unions.
“What we saw today was absolutely disgusting, that attack on a union office, that was led and orchestrated by those very same people (extremist groups) and it’s for this reason — they want to get unions on their side with their conspiracy theories that will lead to people getting sick and dying.
“And I can tell you this, the union movement in this country will not be intimidated by them. We will put safety first. We support people getting vaccinated. Getting vaccinated protects yourself and it protects the whole community and it’s actually the only way out of lockdown.”
Shadow industry minister Bridget Vallence said the Andrews government must immediately reverse its “panicked decision” to shut down construction.
“The Liberal Nationals condemn the violent protests, but the actions of a few should not be used as an excuse to shut down an entire industry, putting tens of thousands of people out of work,” she said in a statement.
NSW-Qld border bubble could burst
The NSW-Queensland border bubble is under threat again, and a lockdown is a possibility, after an infected person visited several northern NSW communities over two days.
The new case comes only one week after the bubble was reinstated following weeks of sparring between the Queensland and NSW governments.
The Northern NSW Local Health District on Monday night confirmed a person had tested positive to the virus on Monday.
The case — who is not a local — flew from Sydney to Ballina on Virgin Flight VA 1141 on Saturday morning and was infectious in the Byron, Ballina and Tweed areas until their positive test result on Monday.
All passengers and crew aboard the flight are being contacted by NSW Health and will be required to get tested and self-isolate.
Meanwhile stay-at-home orders have been reinstated for several other NSW regional towns after cases were diagnosed.
On Monday the western NSW town of Cowra was forced back into lockdown, when a nine-year-old school boy tested positive to the virus.
NSW reported 935 new local COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday and four deaths — two people in their 60s and two in their 80s — taking the toll for the current NSW outbreak to 245.
It was the lowest number of daily infections since August 27, when the figure last dipped below 1000, but Premier Gladys Berejiklian pleaded with NSW residents to remain on high alert.
The United States will re-open to air passengers from China, India, the United Kingdom and many other European countries who have received COVID-19 vaccines in early November, the White House says.
Non-US citizen travellers from countries who have been barred from the United States since early 2020 will be allowed in, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said.
The US restrictions were first imposed on travellers from China in January 2020 by then-president Donald Trump and then extended to other countries in the following months, without any clear metrics for how and when to lift them.
President Joe Biden in April of this year added new travel restrictions on India, barring most non-US citizens from entering the United States.
Mr Biden also reversed plans by Mr Trump in January to lift restrictions on European countries.
The United States currently bars most non-US citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the UK, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
There will be some exceptions to the vaccine policy, officials said, including for children not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
The new rules do not yet apply to travellers crossing land borders with Mexico and Canada.