As it’s revealed the bill for the protesters has blown out to more than $2.45 million, Canberrans are being warned to brace themselves for further impacts to the road and transport system with further disruption planned in the lead-up to the Federal Budget next week.
Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said while he understood it was “incredibly frustrating” that protesters were not being respectful of Canberrans trying to go about their daily lives, it was simply part and parcel of living in the National Capital.
He urged people to plan their journeys this weekend ahead of time and do what they can to avoid the Parliamentary Triangle while protest activity is underway.
Mr Steel said he was happy with what he described as a “proactive police response” to the protesters so far.
ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan this morning said he understood Canberrans were getting frustrated with the “annoying” protesters who have now been hanging around for more than three months and had cost the AFP $2.475 million.
“These people are annoying, I think we all agree with that, and people are getting frustrated. But it’s a fine line between frustration and annoyance and actual criminality,” he said.
More protesters are again expected to converge in the ACT ahead of the federal budget on Tuesday.
CPO Gaughan echoed Mr Steel’s calls for Canberrans to avoid Commonwealth Avenue and Parliament House this Saturday between 9 am and midday.
“I ask Canberrans to, as they have been basically since December, shy away from them, give them a bit of a distance, let them rant and rave and do what they’re doing. And then, hopefully by Tuesday night, they’ll have left.”
Some Canberrans have said on social media they plan to stage counter-protests this weekend.
But CPO Gaughan said he thought Canberrans would be mature enough not to agitate the group further.
“I think we’re over the stage where criminality leads to a caution … these people have been here for a number of months. Any criminality and my officers will arrest them,” he said.
“There are a couple of people we are keeping a very, very close eye on. But at this stage, things are peaceful, and I’m very confident they will remain that way.”
He also asked Canberrans to call the police if they saw the protesters behaving badly and not to tag their Facebook page in videos being circulated online.
Earlier this week, multiple videos had surfaced of interactions between protesters and Transport Canberra bus drivers.
Police and Transport Canberra are investigating multiple incidents, including one where a bus made contact with a protester.
Mr Steel denied bus drivers were being targeted by protesters and said it was more to do with the fact the protesters had decided to congregate around areas like the bus interchange.
“Violence is never acceptable, particularly against frontline workers … and our thoughts are with the victims of that violence,” he said.
Mr Steel said drivers were trained in customer service, which included “dealing with difficult people”, and they were being provided with additional support.
The current group of protesters – some of whom are camped in the surrounding region – arrived in December as part of the Convoy to Canberra.
CPO Gaughan said it was difficult to negotiate with the group because their movement is so broad and unstructured and it is difficult to find a leader to talk to.
While largely opposing vaccine mandates, the group has also attracted the ‘sovereign citizen’ movement and Indigenous rights activists.
Earlier this week, the protesters staged a small demonstration outside the ACT Legislative Assembly, but it was short-lived and they moved on quickly.
Some members of the group were calling for the ACT Government to scrap its proposed pandemic management legislation bill which will likely pass the Assembly during the next sitting week in early April.
The new bill is intended to allow greater oversight and human rights protections than what is currently afforded by the public health emergency declaration which has now been in force for more than two years.