Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

No-fly zone over Melbourne as tense Shrine of Rememberance standoff continues

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has grounded aircraft flying above Melbourne’s inner city without police approval, in a move that will prevent media from using helicopters to cover anti-lockdown protests from the sky.

The CASA notification, which is effective for the next five days and extends to 2500 above the city, came before police fired non-lethal rounds into a crowd of up to 1000 anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine mandate protesters at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance.

Riot police have surrounded protesters at the shrine, but have mostly kept their distance in a stand-off that has lasted hours.

It is the third day of protests in Melbourne, which began with a demonstration on Monday to oppose an order from the Chief Health Officer that construction workers must receive a vaccine to return to work when the industry is reopened. On Tuesday, the protest swelled to a group of thousands – including many far-right activists – that rampaged across the city and resulted in several violent scenes.

Members of the protest group at the Shrine periodically chanted a mix of anti-vaccine slogans and invective at Premier Daniel Andrews, as well as singing the national anthem and at one stage taking a knee in front of police officers.

Police eventually began to remove some protesters at about 3.30pm, while encouraging others to leave peacefully.

Earlier, scattered groups of protesters engaged in a game of cat and mouse with Victorian riot police throughout Wednesday morning, as protest action continued in Melbourne for a third day.

By 1.30pm, protesters and police were in a tense standoff about 200 metres apart.

Police pursued small and seemingly disorganised groups of protesters, who marched along several CBD streets including Elizabeth, Flinders and Queen streets, blocking traffic as they walked.

A handful of arrests were made as members of Victoria Police’s Public Order Response and Critical Incident Response teams converged on the city in a show of force, stopping people who attempted to enter the CBD and checking their identification.

By early afternoon, protesters were growing in numbers near the Melbourne headquarters of the CFMEU, north of the Queen Victoria Market, where there was also a large police presence.

The construction union’s office windows have been boarded over after protesters, enraged by the state government mandating of COVID-19 vaccination for those employed in the building sector, gathered there on Monday, throwing projectiles including bottles.

Wednesday’s protests have so far been significantly smaller than Tuesday’s, when up to 2000 people met in the city before blockading the West Gate Bridge in a march that organisers vowed to repeat.

Several hundred people marched south along Swanston Walk and St Kilda Road. There were chants of “f— the jab” and “f— Dan Andrews”.

Police have vowed to be less tolerant on Wednesday, and said Melbourne would not see a repeat of Tuesday’s scenes where the protest became violent at times.

Victorian construction union leader John Setka said any CFMEU members found to have participated in violent protests would be expelled from the union.

“Let me tell you, people that were involved in the violent protest, they may as well go pick fruit in Mildura somewhere because they will not be working in our industry,” he told ABC radio Wednesday morning.

Premier Daniel Andrews condemned the protests and said Victoria Police would “take action against those who did the wrong thing yesterday”.

“They’re not there to protest; they’re there for a fight.”

Mr Andrews said that despite a few thousand people choosing to protest, about 90,000 people got vaccinated on Tuesday.

“That’s the more important number. They know that the way out of this is not violence, it’s vaccination,” he said.

The Andrews government has shut the state’s construction industry for two weeks, blaming low COVID-safe compliance at building sites. There are more than 330 active cases across the sector.

Speaking to the media after announcing that all school and early learning staff will be required to be vaccinated by October 18, Education Minister James Merlino said the protesters were criminals.

“Make no mistake, this is thuggery, this is criminal behaviour and will be responded to accordingly by Victoria Police, who are doing an exceptional job,” Mr Merlino said.