Victorian vaccination clinics close due to threat of protests in Melbourne CBD

© Provided by ABC Business Uniformed officers are standing guard outside parliament and other flashpoints in the city. (ABC News: Kyle Harley)

Abuse from protesters has forced a community health clinic and vaccination centre in Melbourne’s CBD to close, as police presence mounts across the city.

Chief executive of cohealth, Nicole Bartholomeusz, said several workers had been physically and verbally abused in the city while on their way to work, “targeted because they were wearing their cohealth identification”.

The Melbourne Town Hall vaccination centre and a drop-in health clinic for people experiencing homelessness opposite Queen Victoria Market have shut for at least four days.

“This means people experiencing homelessness can no longer access vital services and supports at Central City and at least 200 people per day will no longer be able to access the vaccine from the Melbourne Town Hall,” Ms Bartholomeusz said.

Premier Daniel Andrews said cohealth was providing vaccines to the state’s most vulnerable people. 

“Those staff have been treated appallingly,” he said.

Melbourne streets remained quiet and largely calm throughout Thursday morning as police guarded possible flashpoints in anticipation of a fourth day of protests.

About 100 police had gathered at the offices of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) by Thursday morning, with one person seen arrested.

A similar police presence was seen at the Shrine of Remembrance and at Victorian Parliament.

Violent scenes saw 215 people arrested at the Shrine of Remembrance on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned the “disgraceful” and “disrespectful” protests at the Shrine where a stand-off with police lasted hours.

Two police officers were struck in the head with bottles during the protest, while another was admitted to hospital with chest pains.

Speaking from Washington DC, the Prime Minister said the Shrine was a sacred site and not a place of protest. 

“The conduct was disgraceful,” he said.

“It was disrespectful and it dishonoured those Australians who have made the ultimate sacrifice and I would hope any and all who were in that should be ashamed.”

Protests against the coronavirus lockdown and mandatory vaccinations began on Monday after the Victorian government announced a two-week shutdown of the construction industry, and have grown in scope since then.

Shrine of Remembrance chief executive Dean Lee said yesterday was a “troubling day” for the veteran community.

“We know what the Shrine means to the veteran community of Victoria and Australia and to see it disrespected in that way was very difficult for all of us,” Mr Lee said.

“There has been urination on the walls of the memorial, which is disgusting. There was rubbish strewn everywhere. 

“Those that seek to divide us in a time of crisis are not doing themselves any favours and not representing the best values of what it is to be Australian.”

The secretary of the national construction arm of the CFMEU, Dave Noonan, condemned the “mob” that used the Shrine to protest and said they should be “ashamed”.

Mr Noonan said the Shrine “commemorates those who served their country in armed conflict and at war” and that yesterday’s protests did not represent “the vast majority of union members in the construction industry nor the Australian community”. 

Links to far-right groups

Counter-terrorism expert Professor Greg Barton told ABC News Breakfast far-right activists were “directing, planning, [and] egging on the protesters”.

“Some of them [protesters] may well be union members but others have come in and hijacked the opportunity,” he said.

“They’re trying to bend the curve in their direction. They struggle for relevance so they’re trying to get attention because they want people to come and connect with them. They want to recruit. They want to groom and form friendships and slowly grow their groups.

“They’ve got a long-term plan and know that they’re not going to achieve what they want straight away.”

Professor Barton said media attention and provoking police into using “heavy-handed measures” would help their cause.

He said those pushing a far-right agenda were a small group but said the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attacks that killed 51 people died proved one lone actor could “cause immense damage”.

“Longer term, the larger risk is just the corrosion of our social cohesion, turning ourselves against each other and fuelling hate.”

No-fly zone temporarily repealed 

Media outlets have won the right to keep flying helicopters over Melbourne, after the Federal Court granted an interim stay on restrictions imposed yesterday by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

Under the rules, news helicopters were required to seek approval from Victoria Police before flying and organisations had to delay broadcasting any footage of this week’s Melbourne protests for an hour.

But the interim stay means CASA’s flight restrictions will no longer be in effect until a full trial takes place, which may be as early as next week.

In handing down judgment, Justice Helen Rofe said there was “a serious question to be tried” over the orders, which came at the request of Victoria Police.

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