14 February 2022

UPDATED: Three arrested as police clear protest camp at EPIC

| James Coleman
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Police presence at the closed EPIC campground. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

UPDATED 4:00 pm: Three people have been arrested as police removed an estimated 1000 protesters from the Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) campgrounds over three hours this morning.

Detective Acting Superintendent Rod Anderson said the ACT Policing operation was “very successful and went to plan”.

“This operation was successful and those people who were illegally camping here at EPIC have been moved on,” he said.

“It means EPIC can get on with the business of providing events to the Canberra and surrounding community, probably most importantly the Canberra Show, which we’ve been without for the last two years and we’re really looking forward to.”

A man and a woman were charged with trespass and a second man was charged with trespass and resisting a territory official.

No vehicles were required to be towed and no camping equipment was seized.

Organisers of the ‘Freedom Convoy to Canberra’ made a $25,000 booking at EPIC after being cleared from the Patrick White Lawns near the National Library of Australia. This booking expired on Sunday and ACT Policing advised protestors they had to leave by that date or risk being charged with trespassing.

“A lot of people elected to take the earlier advice and direction to move on,” Superintendent Anderson said.

ACT Policing thanked the community for their patience over the last week, and especially the past weekend while multiple road closures and diversions were in place.

Close to a thousand protestors are believed to still be in the ACT, with 300 to 400 setting up at the Cotter Campground.

ACT Policing reminded protestors that they must only set up in designated and available camping sites.

“Camping outside of a designated site is an offence and campers will be asked to move on,” a spokesperson said.

“Those who refuse to do so may be subject to fines and/or arrest.”

Low-level protest activity may continue to occur in the Parliamentary Triangle and other areas in the coming days and, as a result, short-term traffic disruptions may be experienced.

ACT Policing recognises the rights of people to peacefully protest, but they said when illegal actions take place the people responsible will be dealt with in accordance with the law.

Police vehicles

Police presence at the closed EPIC campground. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

UPDATED 11:00 am: After two weeks of disruption to travel and business, it would seem Canberrans finally have their city back.

ACT Policing, with additional resources from the broader Australian Federal Police (AFP), have begun moving the last remaining protestors from the Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC). Two people have been arrested for refusing to move.

The ‘Freedom Convoy to Canberra’ has been camping at EPIC since they were moved from an unapproved camp on the Patrick White Lawns near the National Library of Australia. Organisers of the camp made a $25,000 booking at EPIC through money received in donations.

READ ALSO Protesters warned to move on from EPIC campsites today

On Friday, police advised protestors that they needed to leave EPIC by Sunday as preparations for the Royal Canberra Show began. Anyone remaining after that deadline would be considered trespassing.

It’s understood the majority moved on by the deadline.

“People who refuse to leave will be arrested and their equipment and vehicles will be seized by police,” an ACT Policing spokesperson said.

It’s understood some elements are remaining in the area, camping at the Cotter Campground and Queanbeyan Showground.

The Convoy began arriving on 31 January to protest against the Federal Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

Freedom Convoy To Canberra protest march on Saturday. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Since then, rallies and marches have taken place at several key sites across the capital, including Old Parliament House, the National Press Club, and the ACT Law Courts, with protest activity peaking on Saturday when an estimated 10,000 marched from Commonwealth Park to Parliament House.

They might be leaving, but the fire in their belly is far from out, as many protestors vow to return to Canberra in time for the Federal Budget on 29 March.

In a radio interview this morning, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said protests are part of life in the capital.

“I understand everyone’s – or most people’s – frustration. It is annoying, but we are the national capital. This is something that’s been part of our city’s history forever, and it will be forever into the future. We will be a place of protest,” Mr Barr told ABC Radio Canberra.

READ ALSO Ten thousand ‘freedom’ protesters swarm Parliament House lawns: Photos/video

“It’s not illegal to be in the ACT. It’s not illegal to disagree with the government of the day. These protesters are not targeting Canberra as distinct from the national capital, and they’re certainly not targeting the ACT Government as distinct from airing a wide variety of grievances.”

He said differing political views are no legal basis on which to deny access to accommodation facilities.

Royal National Capital Agricultural Society CEO Geoff Cannock says set-up for the Royal Canberra Show is still in “stall mode”, as trucks of supplies are forced to bank up elsewhere as the last remaining vestiges of the protest camp are cleared.

“We’re waiting on a call from police telling us that we’re allowed to enter and begin setting up,” he says.

“The thing about this protest is that they were very clean, in terms of litter… The grounds are very dusty and dirty from all the traffic, but a shower or two of rain will fix that.”

police

Police presence at the closed EPIC campground. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Mr Cannock says the show has permanent offices at EPIC, but these were inaccessible while the protestors were on-site.

“Many gave us their support, but for others, the vitriol was unbelievable.”

He says the support from the Canberra community has been fantastic.

“Canberrans are naturally frustrated their space has been invaded, especially as several of our events have been impacted.”

The Royal Canberra Show is expected to kick off as scheduled on 25 February.

READ ALSO Lifeline shuts Bookfair amid deteriorating situation at EPIC

Both the Capital Region Farmers Market and Lifeline Bookfair were cancelled due to security concerns at EPIC. The Bookfair was closed when a wave of additional protestors arrived on Friday night and several knocked over the fences on the border of Lifeline’s allocation.

The ACT Government donated $25,000 to Lifeline in compensation for the disruption to the major fundraising event, while the Canberra community has also rallied to Lifeline’s aid, raising a total of $700,000 as of this morning.

Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie-Ann Leeson says the amount is “very much on par” with what they would have received through the Bookfair at EPIC.

“We’re a little bit stunned and lost for words. It’s been incredible. The shortfall has well and truly been achieved through the Canberra community … and the donations are continuing to come in.”

Books at the Lifeline Bookfair. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Ms Leeson says she spent most of the weekend with the volunteers, “hearing the stories and getting their feedback”.

“A lot of them were obviously gutted and devastated on Saturday when the call was made to suspend the Bookfair, but thanks to the community support, and just the character and people that they are, the volunteers just turned around and started to pack up and get the books back to the warehouse.”

As for all the unsold books, the volunteers are arranging for them to be distributed through other charities, including one in Papua New Guinea where the books will be used to stock schools.

READ ALSO Canberra becomes protest central as Parliament sits for first time this year

The annual Bookfair takes four to five months to prepare for and EPIC is almost booked out for 2022, so Ms Leeson says rescheduling is out of the question.

Lifeline holds two Bookfairs at EPIC every year, one in February and the other in September. September’s Bookfair is secured.

“We also have a smaller bookfair south-side, and that will happen in July, but that’s on a much smaller scale.”

Ms Leeson says it’s important to note the Bookfair was “fully supported” by the campers at EPIC.

“But there’s a minority element in there that, unfortunately – with the knocking down of the fences and the cutting through into our allocation – forced us to close the Bookfair,” she says.

“It’s not the sentiment of many of the people who … were here to peacefully protest.”

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thefionahamer2:57 pm 15 Feb 22

If the protestors were “so clean,”it’s a bit of a puzzle why the shed for the Farmers Market is full of rubbish and still being cleaned out.

The protesters paid $25k to camp at EPIC, were directed to camp there and nowhere else and so cannot be blamed if the numbers that arrived exceeded everyone’s expectations and caused some unavoidable spillage into the parking areas allocated for the Bookfair. It was unfortunate the Bookfair had to be cancelled but as conceded by Lifeline CEO: “Ms Leeson says it’s important to note the Bookfair was “fully supported” by the campers at EPIC.”
Despite the abuse they got from some drivers and online vitriol from some intolerant Canberra residents, overall the 10-15,000 interstate visitors were well behaved, with no violence and few arrests for such a large gathering. Yes, some of their opinions were loopy and bizarre, but the majority do not deserve the demonisation they were subjected to simply because they want control over their own bodies. Don’t we support the concept of my body, my choice?

I agree Acton, “my body, my choice”. however when you get abused and threatened because your choices dont line up with theirs, then isnt that a little hypercritical? i mean yes its your choice or not to get vaccinated and or wear a mask just like its my choice. so why should i cop abuse for it? how is that “FREEDOM” of choice?

Spillage into other areas that involved the deliberate taking down of fences….. far out!

And while there may have been minimal arrests and thankfully no substantial violence, there was plenty of anecdotal evidence from around the city of pretty undesirable behaviour towards local residents and businesses. Completely unnecessary and completely uncalled for.

babyal/JS9 – happy to qualify what I wrote by saying that abuse from either side should be avoided. Abuse doesn’t persuade anyone and has the opposite effect. My point was let’s not blame the majority for the actions of a minority.

Acton,
Sorry the actions of the majority of the protesters were designed to impede the lawful business of Canberrans.

It was core to the protest and that’s without even starting on the abuse and harassment of locals, destruction of property and targeting of local businesses that a significant proportion of protesters engaged in.

And just like previous protests that you’ve opposed, the actions of those badly behaved people necessarily affects the perception of all of them.

Lay down with dogs, wake up with fleas.

As usual you are simply wrong and spreading misinformation. Here is the reality:
“National Capital Authority CEO Sally Barnes told ABC Radio Canberra that you wouldn’t have known the protestors had even been there.

“People were really quite well behaved and they took their litter with them. We’ve cleaned up, but it wasn’t nearly as drastic as we thought.”

Acton – the majority may have been well behaved. However, if you call a number of people spitting on my son for daring to wear a mask on Northbourne Ave on Saturday afternoon good behaviour then that’s very sad. He also took an elderly couple under his wing as they were being harrassed and verbally attacked for, likewise, daring to wear a mask.
When too many people arrived for the space they should have moved on to another ground rather than move/ destroy fencing. These selfish actions impacted on ordinary and extraordinary Canberrans trying to go about their own business unimpeded.

That might be the case in the triangle, but I wouldn’t be so sure its the case at EPIC. I’ve heard that pretty significant clean up action is required prior to the site being handed over to the Show people.

Acton,
What are you on about?

Sally Barnes (one person) was talking about one day of the protest in a specific location.

And you think that negates the hundreds of stories, videos and documented personal experiences of Canberrans over the last couple of weeks?

And then you want to say I’m spreading misinformation?

Bahahahaha.

Next thing you’re probably going to tell us there was 100k+ protesters there too.

Kiwi: Of course the behaviour you describe was repugnant. I was at the Lifeline Bookfair last Friday for a few hours until it closed and there were no problems (at that time), but more and more interstate protesters were arriving and the authorities only allowed them to camp at EPIC so there was inevitable overcrowding. I am not denying or justifying incidents of bad behaviour, but it happened on both sides. The dangerous actions and abuse of one crazy driver ramming a protester’s car doesn’t mean all Canberrans are like her.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADVNMhI3zAY

Trying the Trumpian angle, Acton?
“There were good people on both sides.”

CT 7/2: “Despite reports of clashes with police, ACT Policing Commander of Operations Linda Champion advised protesters were generally well behaved.”
So the CEO of Lifeline, Ms Leeson, the CEO of the NCA, Sally Barnes (quoted above) and now also the ACT police commander, Linda Champion, comment favourabaly on the general good behaviour of the majority of the protesters in Canberra. But there are those with habitually closed minds who continue with their own bile driven campaign of vitriolic misinformation, reflecting a narrative they find impossible to deviate from. Or they just can’t accept the words of females in authority.

Acton,
They haven’t commented “favourably”, they’ve got jobs to do and are commenting on the specifics of those jobs in specific situations.

How does those responses to specific protest actions in specific locations and times relate to the overall situation that’s been occurring for over two weeks? They can’t be extrapolated.

How many of the people being abused and harassed by the protesters do you think reported it to police?

Does the fact a crime may have not been committed that needed police action make their behaviour acceptable?

You’re right about people with closed minds, they will see what they want to.

As long as they agree with someone, they can excuse any type of behaviour and will go looking for any type of “evidence” to feed their confirmation biases.

Exhibit A, The entirety of your comments on this issue.

Jenny Graves3:02 pm 14 Feb 22

I’ve been told by people who were involved in the protest that they were encouraged by their organisers to make donations to Lifeline to help offset the cancellation of the book fair. A nice gesture from at least some of them. It would be interesting to know how many of the total donations came from participants.

I wouldn’t hold your breath that any donations said to be taken for lifeline actually getting to lifeline – hopefully they do.

Idiots who don’t get the distinction between State and Federal powers.

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