Footage of a replica hangman’s gallows at a right-wing protest against the Victorian government’s proposed pandemic laws has been slammed as “sick and scary”, with Labor leader Anthony Albanese saying it “should be condemned by all political leaders”.
Protesters have been described as “Qanon bull—t” and “merchants of hate” by Victorian politicians, who also demanded state Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy, denounce last weekend’s protests attended by several state Liberal politicians and federal MP Craig Kelly.
But while Mr Guy condemned the protests, he said he wouldn’t “pick and choose” which groups that politicians could speak to.
“It’s time to step up, or stand down. To 100 per cent renounce the violent rhetoric, to condemn in no uncertain terms the threats of violence, rape and death to my colleagues, my friends,” Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick said on Tuesday.
The full-size wooden gallows – from which hung a wooden cross with the word “treason” painted on it – appeared on a trailer towed by a car at a protest outside the Victorian parliament on Monday night. Video from the scene showed demonstrators cheering, laughing and taking photos.
One witness told The New Daily they saw the car doing “laps” around the area, displaying the gallows. At one stage, a protester placed a figure in the likeness of Mr Andrews on the gallows.
Victoria Police said later on Tuesday they were yet to investigate the stunt.
A spokesman said there had so far been no complaints. If the premier or someone else did complain, and felt it was a legitimate threat, police would investigate it in line with the Crimes Act, a spokesman said.
The display was an ugly escalation of protests that have continued for weeks over Labor’s controversial pandemic bill, which would give the state government broad powers to set public health orders and level massive fines on safety grounds.
Critics claim it is overreach, and opposition culminated in large protests last weekend. Thousands of people marched through Melbourne, including a few demonstrators who carried makeshift nooses, waved Donald Trump flags, and wore merchandise related to the baseless Qanon conspiracy theory.
Video from the scenes showed some protesters chanting “hang Dan Andrews”.
The protests were organised and promoted by an assortment of large anti-lockdown, vaccine sceptic and far-right groups online, including Reignite Democracy – an activist group formally linked with Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party.
Mr Kelly, a former Liberal MP and now leader of the UAP, gave a 10-minute speech to large crowds on Saturday. State Liberal MP Bernie Finn also reportedly made a speech, referring to the Premier as “Despot Dan” and the proposed legislation as “evil”.
The New Daily has contacted Mr Kelly for a response. TND has also contacted Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office for comment.
The pandemic bill was amended on Monday in consultation with a group of crossbench MPs, whose vote will decide the final outcome. Conditions for when the government’s powers can be activated will be tightened, while proposed penalties will be reduced.
Mr Meddick, who is one of the crossbenchers, claimed protesters had arrived at his house and “terrorised” his family over the weekend. On Tuesday, he called for Mr Guy to denounce the protests, claiming the Liberal Party had “legitimised the noose-wielding maniacs”.
While labelling the protesters as “ridiculous” and “stupid”, Mr Guy declined to rebuke Liberal MPs who spoke at recent rallies.
“That’s a dangerous place in democracy to say we’re going to pick and choose who can’t be addressed at a rally,” he said.
Federal Labor politicians were swift to condemn Monday’s protest. Mr Albanese tweeted that “peaceful protest is a fundamental right in our democracy” but that “the violent images on display in Melbourne have no place”.
Tanya Plibersek slammed the nooses and gallows, saying “everyone should reject this behaviour”, while Victorian MP Andrew Giles called it “sick and scary”.
“This violent, threatening right-wing extremism can’t become a new normal: It must be called out, and stopped,” he tweeted.
Victorian state Labor MP Martin Pakula blasted protesters as “Qanon bull—t, ginned up by online conspiracy theorists, certain media commentators and politicians who should know better”.
A similar statement came from the crossbenchers, who issued a joint statement claiming that “the official opposition and some prominent shock jocks and tabloid commentators knowingly, dangerously incited and fanned unduly angry civil unrest with lies”.