Anti-lockdown and anti-vaxxer protesters swarmed dozens of government buildings nationwide on Tuesday, leading to Queensland parliament being shut down over fears the building would be breached.
Police issued hundreds of fines and arrested more than 150 people.
It’s the latest escalation in a worrying trend of conspiracy theory-fuelled protests across the nation, following violent demonstrations and highway blockades in recent weeks.
Protest organisers have promised even larger disruptions in coming weeks as part of a worldwide anti-lockdown movement.
“Let’s hit the streets in massive numbers,” one prominent anti-lockdown organiser said after Tuesday’s rallies, claiming their next demonstrations would send the government “a message they can’t ignore”.
As The New Daily reported on Monday, a wide range of anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination, conspiracy and COVID sceptic groups had promoted the nationwide rallies.
Billed as “silent protests”, followers were urged to gather at council buildings, parliaments and other public areas.
The groups, with a wide range of backgrounds and followers, encouraged protests over a grab-bag of concerns including vaccine passports, lockdowns, border closures and business support.
The August 31 protests were originally encouraged by an infamous Australian conspiracy theorist, now living in New Zealand, who claimed the protests would be enough to dissolve the governments in both countries and force elections.
It was not explained how the silent protests would achieve either of those goals.
However, several thousand people gathered at potentially hundreds of sites in local towns and cities across Australia and New Zealand.
New South Wales Police said at least 79 protests were detected in that state, with large protests also held in Victoria and Queensland.
Photos and videos posted by protesters to Facebook and Telegram, seen by TND, showed crowds in their hundreds gathering in dozens of locations including Mullumbimby, Byron Bay, Noosa, the Gold Coast and at state parliament in Brisbane.
The demonstrations forced the lockdown of Queensland’s parliament on Tuesday morning, as a crowd gathered outside the building.
“We have received advice from the Queensland Police of a possible protest activity, including attempted intrusion of the precinct,” Speaker Curtis Pitt said in parliament.
“As a precautionary measure Queensland Police advise the precinct should be locked down until the protest activity has ceased.”
As TND reported on Monday, Tuesday’s protests were linked to a truck demonstration that temporarily blocked Brisbane’s Pacific Motorway.
Hundreds of fines, arrests
Queensland Police said they were initially unaware of the protest. TND has contacted Queensland Police for information on any arrests made or fines issued.
However, NSW Police said they were prepared, and had deployed 900 officers across the state to respond to the demonstrations.
As of 6pm on Tuesday, NSW Police said they had arrested 153 people across the state, and issued numerous charges including for assaulting police, resisting arrest, breaching public health orders and refusing to move on.
“Three officers received minor injuries following interactions with protestors at Lismore, Murwillumbah and Raymond Terrace,” NSW Police said in a statement.
Nearly 600 fines were also issued, including for not wearing a face mask and breaching public health orders.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon told reporters most protests were made up of only a handful of people.
The organisers were different to those who oversaw a large-scale demonstration last month in Sydney’s CBD.
Separate attempts to arrange a truck blockade failed to eventuate.
“We’ve made it very clear in previous weeks the police are not opposed to free speech, but we are opposed to activity that breaches the public health order and puts the community in danger,” Mr Lanyon said.
Among those arrested were people in Orange, Mudgee, Uralla, Glen Innes, Inverell and Tamworth in the state’s west.
‘Disregarding the safety of their communities’
NSW Police Western Region commander Assistant Commissioner Geoff McKechnie said protesters were “disregarding the safety of their communities”.
Several protests were also held in Victoria, but Victoria Police were unable to immediately provide any figures to TND on Tuesday evening.
One prominent anti-lockdown activist, who has organised several large rallies in Melbourne, posted video footage of herself seemingly being arrested by police for “incitement”.
Many protesters reacted with joy following the demonstrations, posting online that they were happy with the turnout and delightedly sharing photos and video of rallies they attended.
One organiser told followers that he had “learnt we can actually outnumber the police quite easily, if we get even more people coming we can outnumber them by a lot”.
However, others complained the events were “disjointed” with “too many people hijacking the day”.
Police regularly monitor the social media groups these protests are organised in, and mobilise responses to quell the events before they begin.
In Sydney last month, for instance, police targeted public transport and placed restrictions on rideshare vehicles entering the city, to decrease the number of people able to attend a planned protest over the state’s lockdown laws.
Further large protests, part of a “worldwide freedom rally”, are planned around the country in mid-September.
These would be a follow-up to the large and violent events that took over Sydney and Melbourne last month, where police were assaulted and property destroyed.