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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”