Victoria Police have defended the arrest of a pregnant woman for inciting anti-lockdown protests, despite conceding it wasn’t a good look.
And police would continue to crack down on anyone planning to protest the state’s strict coronavirus measures, Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said.
“We share the frustration that is shared by the whole community. But the key piece here is that leaving home to protest under the current conditions, it’s absolutely not on,” he said on Thursday.
“Don’t come into the city and undermine all the hard work and sacrifice that’s been made by the vast majority of law-abiding citizens. Adhering to the chief health officer’s directions remains the most effective way of us finding a pathway back to normality.”
Victoria’s COVID cases spiked back above 100 on Thursday, with 113 infections confirmed. There were also 15 more fatalities, taking the state’s virus toll to 591.
They included nine earlier deaths in aged-care homes confirmed as part of mandatory reporting changes recently introduced by the federal government.
Premier Daniel Andrews has promised to reveal plans on Sunday for moving beyond virus restrictions in Melbourne and regional Victoria.
Ballarat mother Zoe-Lee Buhler sparked a social media storm when she posted video footage of her arrest on Wednesday night.
She was handcuffed in her home after allegedly organising an anti-lockdown protest for Ballarat on Saturday.
Mr Cornelius defended the officers who made the arrest, while acknowledging the video looked bad.
“I would be the first to acknowledge the optics, for want of a better description, arresting a pregnant female, it’s never going to look good,” he said.
“The optics of arresting someone who is pregnant is terrible.
“I’ve seen the footage, and you know, in my assessment, the members have conducted themselves entirely reasonably.
“They have been polite. They have been professional. When the individual indicated she may be late for an appointment at the hospital, our members actually contacted the hospital and made arrangements for an alternative appointment.”
Mr Cornelius is adamant the arrest was justified.
“While this deadly virus doesn’t discriminate, we won’t discriminate. And we can’t discriminate in holding people to account,” he said..
“We said we would be coming out and we would be holding people to account and that’s exactly what we’ve done.
“You have to have been on Mars not to know that. I have to say if someone looked me in the eye and I was out dealing with an individual and they said, “‘I didn’t know I couldn’t protest’ I have to say, ‘come on, don’t take me for a fool’.”
Ms Buhler insisted she did not realise the protest was illegal, given Ballarat’s Stage 3 restrictions, but was also unrepentant.
“I had a bit of a bimbo moment and I actually didn’t realise that it wasn’t OK,” she told 3AW on Thursday.
“I probably wouldn’t change anything, to be honest.
“If the police had just called me and told me to remove the post, I would’ve done so.”
Three men also have been arrested for incitement over a planned Saturday protest at inner-Melbourne locations, including the Shrine Of Remembrance.
Mr Cornelius said police were determined the protest did not go ahead.
“By all means, protest online. Be the keyboard warrior. Say all sorts of unpleasant and uncharitable things about people urging you to behave sensibly, but do it online,” he said.
“Don’t leave home to do it.”
Mr Cornelius joined Shrine officials and the RSL in saying choosing the Shrine as a protest venue was “incredibly disrespectful”.
“It is sacred ground, sacred ground for all Victorians, sacred ground for the families of all those who have fallen in the defence of our country,” he said.
“It’s completely inappropriate to engage in political protest and protest activity on sacred ground such as the Shrine.”
Mr Cornelius added that apart from the three arrests, police had spoken to about 80 people and warned them not to attend the protest.
“Despite what people may believe, those who are selfish enough to leave home to protest in the current time, they, like everybody, have to comply with the chief health officer’s directions,” he said.
“We remain very concerned. And, in fact, outraged is probably a fair word, to say there are still people in our community who think it’s a good idea at the time of this deadly pandemic that we’re all fighting, think it’s a good time to leave home and protest on our streets.”