Thousands of protestors gathered outside Parliament House this morning, clamouring for attention as politicians took their seats for the first sitting day of 2022.
Canberra has been protest central since last Monday (31 January) when cars and trucks started rolling into the Parliamentary Triangle, honking horns and flying a mixture of flags, often upside down to signify distress.
— The-Riotact.com (@The_RiotACT) February 8, 2022
Today marked the day they had all come for, when the country’s leaders are mere metres away, discussing the way forward for 2022.
The ‘Freedom Convoy to Canberra’ has been responsible for the bulk of the protest activity over the past week, bringing in thousands from around the country, all crying out against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically concerning vaccine and mask mandates.
But another group joined them on the lawns of Parliament House from noon today, when hundreds of immigrants from Afghanistan demanded permanent protection here in Australia.
Organised by the Canberra Refugee Action Campaign and Diaspora Advocacy Network for Afghanistan (DANA), the group calls for mandatory detention of incoming refugees to be abolished.
“I know that politicians have constantly exploited fear and selfishness to achieve their ends,” one speaker said.
“We call upon you to exercise justice and mercy in the revoking of Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) and their replacement with permanent residency. We call upon you to exercise mercy and compassion in the matter of family reunions.”
One goal unites the two groups – to enjoy a normal life in Australia.
Protestor Mary-Anne drove down from Newcastle today to join the growing ‘freedom’ protest. She says she is here for freedom, “not only for myself but also my children and grandchildren”.
“Fear is overriding everything and distorting decision-making,” she says.
Another protestor, Katrina, is from Sydney and says the group is “done with the mandates”.
“We’re done with the coercion and the loss of freedoms. We’ve all lost something. So many people have lost businesses and lives.”
Dayana is from Tamworth where she was a teacher for 28 years before she refused the COVID-19 vaccination last year and lost her job. She says many others in the crowd echo her story.
“People accuse us of being uneducated and stupid. But we’re teachers and nurses of decades. We are educated.”
She says people should be free to choose whether or not they want the vaccine.
“People have lost everything, jobs, families. Marriages are broken down. People’s families don’t speak to them. ”
Since being cleared from a makeshift camp on the Patrick White Lawns near the National Library of Australia, protestors have settled at Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC).
Dayana says the staff have all been “lovely” and continue to open up additional campsites as protesters arrive.
“People are coming from interstate with no money and no food, but because of donations, we’re able to survive.”
The Convoy has earned a reputation for itself after run-ins with several local businesses, with staff complaining of abuse at the hands of protestors after asking them to wear a mask while indoors.
ACT Policing announced yesterday they were gearing up for today’s activities to prevent a repeat of Monday when protestors pounded on the doors of Parliament House itself, calling for public executions of politicians.
All access roads to Parliament House have since been closed, while a line of police officers and plastic barricades kept protestors on the lawns. Several protestors also patrolled the outside of the barricades, ensuring others were heeding police instructions and remaining peaceful.
Dedicated ‘peacekeepers’ also infiltrated the group, recognisable by their high-visibility orange vests.
Several speeches were made, chiefly by former Qantas pilot Graham Hood who seems to have assumed a leadership role in the Convoy.
Along with other leaders, Mr Hood has submitted an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese, and the Speaker of the House outlining a list of eight demands they believe “will move towards resolution”.
In the letter obtained by Region Media, their demands include a call for an end to the State of Emergency, end of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, end of border closures, end of check-in apps and other digital identity services, and the establishment of a Royal Commission-type investigation into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The climate activist group’ Extinction Rebellion’ didn’t let the day go to waste either.
A so-called ‘flock of Pikachus’ met at the intersection of State Circle and Melbourne Avenue in Forrest from 7:30 am to advocate for government action on climate change, saying “there is no issue more important than climate change at this election”.
Local protest action isn’t set to ease up any time soon. Protestors from the convoy have vowed to stay until “until something changes”. Cars and trucks continue to arrive at EPIC, and this is only expected to increase as plans emerge for another significant rally on Saturday.
Parliament is sitting until Thursday this week (10 February).
ACT Policing reiterates its support for the right of individuals to conduct lawful, peaceful protests, but reminds the wider community not to take the law into their own hands if they see protesters acting illegally.
“Police will respond where required and the people responsible will be dealt with in accordance with the law,” a spokesperson said.