News State Victoria News Rally spurs possible mask ban
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Rally spurs possible mask ban

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Protesters could be banned from wearing masks and there are calls to reinstate laws that give police more powers at rallies after violent clashes at a Melbourne rally.

Seven people were arrested as more than 500 people rallied in heavy rain against both Islam and racism in Coburg on Saturday.

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Five were arrested for riotous behaviour as well as assaulting and hindering police, while two more were arrested for carrying knives and other weapons.

Flag poles were used as weapons and police had to use pepper spray to bring outbursts of violence under control.

A Victoria Police task force will be created to catch people who hid their faces and sparked violent clashes between rival groups during the rally at Bridges Reserve.

Acting Premier James Merlino told media on Sunday he had talked with Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and the government would “be working closely” with Victoria Police to deal with people wearing masks at protests.

Newly appointed Police Minister Lisa Neville told 3AW the trend of protesters wearing masks was “disturbing” and she will meet Mr Ashton on Monday to discuss whether masks could be banned.

“This is about people being given a licence when they wear those masks to try and participate in criminal behaviour, because that’s what violence and inciting hatred is, it’s criminal behaviour.”

Shadow attorney-general John Pesutto said move-on laws scrapped by the Andrews Labor Government in 2015 needed to be brought back to give police more powers.

Under the laws, police and the courts could identify repeat, violent offenders and ban them from going to areas or engaging in protests, Mr Pesutto said.

“How many more violent protests are we going to have to endure?” Mr Pesutto said.

Mr Merlino said Saturday’s violence had “no relation” to the repealing of the coalition’s move-on laws and police had existing powers to order people away from events.

Commander Sharon Cowden said on Saturday police would set up a task force to investigate anyone who hid their identity while committing a crime during the Coburg rally.

“We will be looking at the footage, finding out what else we can do, to track these people down and bring them to justice,” she said.

“We saw inappropriate and often cowardly behaviour with people wearing masks and hiding their identity.”