ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has accused members of the vaccine mandate protest of “effectively stalking Canberrans”.
Mr Barr told ABC National Radio this morning that the ACT Government respects the right to protest but that “some of the behaviour we have witnessed has certainly been over the top”.
“Some elements of the protest movement are effectively stalking Canberrans, harassing business owners and residents, and aggressively flouting the law,” Mr Barr said.
The ‘Freedom Convoy to Canberra’ has been protesting vaccine mandates throughout the capital since last Monday (31 January). Several local businesses have complained of abuse and vandalism at the hands of protestors.
All States Towing was hit with hundreds of one-star Google reviews after the AFP contracted the towing company to remove illegally removed vehicles from the Patrick White Lawns last week.
The O’Malley’s pub in Civic suffered a similar fate after staff asked visiting protestors to wear face masks indoors.
Members of the Canberra community rallied to the support of both companies and brought the average rating back up.
A 44-year-old man was arrested for a firearm offence last Friday, and police cleared an unapproved camp on the Patrick White Lawns near the National Library.
“What we’ve been seeing in the last week has gone beyond peaceful,” Mr Barr said.
“It’s really a case of protestors taking their anger and displeasure out on Canberrans, and that’s not fair.”
During a police update on Monday (7 February), ACT Policing Commander Linda Champion said protestors were generally well behaved and peaceful.
“ACT Policing is happy to continue facilitating their right to a peaceful and democratic protest.”
Police were expecting protest activities to peak outside Parliament House yesterday (8 February) when Parliament sat for the first time in 2022.
A line of police officers and plastic barricades kept protestors on the lawns and away from Parliament House itself, while several protestors also patrolled the outside of the barricades, ensuring others were heeding police instructions and remaining peaceful.
Cars and trucks continue to arrive at EPIC, and more are expected as another significant rally is planned for Saturday.
This is expected to be a repeat of last Saturday, when thousands of protestors converged on Glebe Park before making their way along the Northbourne and Commonwealth Avenues, culminating in a massive rally on the lawns of Parliament House.
Local Juls Jefferson has started an online petition calling for “stronger government and police management of anti-vaccine protestors in Canberra”.
“Canberrans have had enough of anti-vaccine right-wing protestors who have descended on Canberra and pose a significant risk to public health and safety”, the petition reads.
It had around 267 signatures at noon today (9 February).
Mr Barr said that the protestors’ message couldn’t have fallen on a less receptive audience.
“Canberra is amongst the most vaccinated cities on the planet. What is predominantly an anti-vaccine message is probably couldn’t have a less receptive audience anywhere in the world than in Canberra.”
Former Qantas pilot Graham Hood has assumed a leadership role in the Convoy and said at the rally last Saturday that people have had enough of getting nowhere with their respective premiers and have come to Canberra to get their message to the those at the top, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“This is what Australians do when they have their backs to the wall,” he said.
Mr Hood submitted an open letter to Parliament yesterday outlining a list of eight demands they believe “will move towards resolution”.
A GoFundMe page associated with the group was frozen last week after more than $180,000 had been pledged. The Convoy has also started another Facebook page after protestors say the initial page received several warnings from the social media platform and was “plagued by bots”.
When asked about whether or not the ACT Government had plans to move the protestors on, Mr Barr said it would appear that the protest activity has peaked and would naturally fizzle out over the coming weeks.
The protestors are currently camping at the Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC), raising questions over what will happen in the lead up to the Lifeline Book Fair from 11 February and the Royal Canberra Show from 25 February as both events are booked in at EPIC.
“This can’t go on forever,” Mr Barr said.
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.