Victorian veterans say it is “disgraceful and disrespectful” to use Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance to express political views after a mob of rioters relocated from the CBD.
Several hundred demonstrators returned to the city on Wednesday morning despite Melbourne’s stay-at-home orders and a warning from authorities.
What started as a protest against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for the construction sector and a closure of building site tea rooms has since turned into wider unrest.
Chanting “every day” from the shrine, hundreds of mostly men without masks, some still wearing high-visibility clothing like in days earlier, marched through the city to the memorial.
Heavily-armed police have the Shrine surrounded, with cops slowly moving in on the mob making arrests.
The stand-off at the shrine has been going from more than two hours, and police have told protesters they can peacefully exit via St Kilda Road. Few have taken up the offer.
One man told a live stream he walked to the shrine because “those people died for us, and now they want to take away out freedom”.
But RSL Victoria has condemned protesters for relocating to the shrine, saying it is sacred to all people who have served in the armed forces.
“If any individuals or groups choose to express their political views, positions or ideological theories in the grounds of the shrine at any time, they are completely disrespecting the sanctity of this time-honoured space, those men and women of the ADF who have lost their lives, and all Victorian veterans,” the RSL said.
Shrine of Remembrance chair Stephen Bowater called it “disgraceful”.
“The shrine exists to honour the service and sacrifice of all those who serviced our nation in war and peacekeeping,” he said.
Deputy Premier James Merlino refused to call those in the city protesters, instead describing the scenes as “a mob acting criminally” who were putting health workers, themselves and the Victorian public at risk.
Police have permission to use crowd control force against anyone trying to repeat the seven-hour “cat and mouse” game seen in Melbourne on Tuesday, when up to 2000 protesters led police across the city and shut down the West Gate Bridge.
About 500 police were used on Tuesday, arresting 62 people, some for assaulting police, but most for breaching public health orders.
On Wednesday morning, Premier Daniel Andrews, flanked by Police Minister Lisa Neville and Chief Commissioner Shane Patton issued a final warning to those thinking of taking part.
The state government has shut down the construction industry for two weeks in metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire.
The protests began last week when construction workers were told they could not have breaks in tea rooms because of the risk of spreading coronavirus.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine was made mandatory for the industry, prompting another protest in front of the CFMEU office on Monday, which turned violent.
By Tuesday, the crowd of 1000 to 2000 took to Melbourne’s streets against the state government, CFMEU and police.
Authorities say while there are construction workers in the crowds, there have been other groups including anti-lockdown activists attending dressed in high-visibility clothing.
Victoria recorded 628 new coronavirus cases and three more deaths on Wednesday, the highest daily tally in the current outbreak.
The regional city of Ballarat will also emerge from a seven-day lockdown at midnight on Wednesday, but strict rules remain, including masks outdoors and indoors and a ban on home visits.Internet Explorer Channel Network