28 February 2022

Police predict 'freedom' protesters might return to Canberra around budget time

| Lottie Twyford
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freedom protesters

Police intelligence suggests ‘freedom’ protesters may return to the capital next month. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

ACT Policing has warned Canberrans to prepare themselves for what could once again be significant disruptions as protesters return to Canberra at the end of next month to coincide with Federal Parliament budget sittings.

Chief Police Officer (CPO) Neil Gaughan has told an annual reports hearing that work was already underway to prepare policing resources for the return of anti-vaccine mandate protesters next month. He said their best intelligence suggests similar levels of protest activity to what was witnessed in mid-January could resume once again.

ACT Policing estimated the recent protest activity to be the largest recorded in the Territory since the 1980s and, while the protests may have peaked on Saturday, 12 February with around 10,000 to 15,000 people gathering in the Parliamentary Triangle, CPO Gaughan said some smaller, ongoing protest activity continued to require “some rate of effort” from policing.

READ ALSO Chief Minister says some ‘freedom’ protestors ‘effectively stalking Canberrans … aggressively flouting the law’

Protests had begun in late December when Old Parliament House was targeted and vandalised by anti-government, anti-vaccine and sovereign citizen protesters. But it wasn’t until 31 January that the so-called ‘Convoy to Canberra’ began rolling slowly into the Territory.

The group was twice evicted during its stay in the Territory – once from the lawns outside the National Library and then from Exhibition Park. A few were also asked to move on after camping illegally at the Cotter Campground. Others are still in the campground but are now in legal spots.

While some remain, protest activity has been largely subdued since last weekend when the protesters were asked to move on from the EPIC campground to make way for preparations for the Canberra Show.

“This was a unique protest because it went for so long… I cannot recall a protest that has gone on for so long,” CPO Gaughan said.

Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan

Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said it had been a challenge to keep up momentum for two months of rolling protests. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

CPO Gaughan said it had been a challenge to ensure his officers received sufficient rest as well as food and water to sustain the necessary momentum and manage the protests peacefully.

Likewise, the fact many of the protesters were not from Canberra and the fact their cause was not “well-supported” by Canberrans had led to additional difficulties such as the need to “move on” illegal campers as well as logistical challenges related to such a large influx of interstate visitors rolling into the capital at once.

But in the past two months of protests, only 23 arrests have been made, which CPO Gaughan said was proof the protests have been “managed in a way that met the expectations of the community”.

He said it had been a rarity for ACT Policing’s activities to receive so much support from the community and the media.

READ ALSO ‘Tough shit’: Freedom protester responds to Canberra’s reaction

In order to manage the protests, ACT Policing – which is a service contracted from the AFP – has received assistance from AFP National as well as other jurisdictions.

But CPO Gaughan said this assistance hadn’t extended so far as to constitute a “direct injection” of state or territory police to the ACT. Instead, he said the other jurisdictions have been able to provide intelligence as well as some additional technical capabilities.

“[This intelligence] had been in relation to people of interest who have come to the Territory. That information has been passed through to us, in many instances, without us even requesting it,” he explained.

Police in other jurisdictions, including as far away as Queensland and Western Australia, had been actively monitoring convoys as they travelled to and entered the Territory.

They were able to provide information about the numbers and types of people coming. Without it, CPO Gaughan said ACT Policing would have been running blind.

ACT Policing set up an intelligence group in mid-December and its operations are ongoing.

Minister for Police and Emergency Services Mick Gentleman also told the hearing he had written to the federal territories Minister earlier this year to express his concerns about “what seems to be less action from the federal government in dissuading protest activity in the territory”.

“I’m very concerned about the results and responses I’ve received. They haven’t been that affirmative. It appears [the Federal Government] don’t seem too worried about what is happening here in Canberra; it’s most disappointing. But I will still persist and see what we can do.”

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Capital Retro3:21 pm 18 Mar 22

Why is “maintaining the rage” only legal for the left?

Could you imagine if they used their time/energy/money towards flood relief? (Like the Sikh Community). The current protestors then may go up in my estimation. Happy to see Canberra host peaceful protest that is basically considerate of place/people who live here & not hostile to places like Canberra Hospital when some of their members jammed the switchboard with thousands of calls because one of their members was admitted voluntarily, the potential impact to internal communication could have been life threatening (& I’m sure will now be looked at). Certainly haven’t won my mind or heart to their cause via their behaviour. I feel people protesting amongst the crazy claims/beliefs with real/sincere grievances are being used/are going about it all the wrong way. I wear a mask everywhere as I work with immunocompromised patients & because the health workforce are currently struggling in a big way to adequately staff shifts due to COVID sickleave, some friends were harassed in a big way when out & about last protests for masking up in public to protect their patients/families/workplaces & that hurts.

They have done? Haven’t you seen the latest grift “hey guys, I’m up here in the flood zones with SES/RFS volunteers that aren’t allowed to help because they made their own choice around vaccination. Please send money to ME to offset my costs for flights and accommodation for reporting this from the ground for you”

HiddenDragon6:58 pm 02 Mar 22

On the other hand, had Australian authorities persisted longer with the virus elimination/eradication fantasy, we might have had this –

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-02/nz-police-move-in-on-anti-vaccine-mandate-in-wellington/100876182

I’ve been a protestor – against conscription / Vietnam. Federal gov’t policies!!!!

But, most of what this mob are bitching about are State Government Covid Mandates.

Or are they incapable of figuring that significant out?

As useless as Ukrainians protesting in Australia eh? Incapable of figuring out it is a different country’s government that is responsible.

At least they know what they are protesting about lol.

This is pleasing to see. Don’t let the trifling conflicts across the other side of the world distract from the real issues in Australia, where hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians have lost their jobs due to vaccine and mask mandates.

Hundred of thousands have lost their jobs?

Bahahahaha.

Nah, a miniscule minority have because they were too stupid to get Vaccinated.

Hundreds of thousands? Your counting ability is as strong as your ability to tell which level of government is responsible for mask and vax mandates. Hint: they do not hang out in the building y’all are marching to so often. hahahahahahahahahahaa. This is just too funny.

Yes it’s hilarious when a government has oppressed its people and coerced them to inject chemicals into their body. When Russia or China do it they are considered evil regimes yet when it happens on home soil it is all a bit of a lark isn’t it?

Sam,
Yes your ability to exaggerate is quite humorous.

Although hardly surprising that you compare reasonable public health measures to “oppression”, when you think a handful of anti vaxxers are “hundreds of thousands” of workers.

Did you know we also force construction workers to wear hard hats on site too?

How do they survive under the government’s tyrannical yoke.

Sam your numeric talents are wasted. Given the protesters are returning around the Federal Budget maybe you could given Treasurer Frightenborg a hand with his fictious numbers.

As I’ve pointed out the majority are not anti-vaxxers – take me as an example; I’ve had my shots. I just believe in freedom of speech and freedom of choice as a fundamental right. Even if I have had my shots at the end of the day, I should not have to declare this to a potential employer nor should it be a condition of my employment. It is an intrusive breach of privacy and it’s this slow insidious perversion of basic human rights in a democratically elected system of government that is what people are protesting. You expect that from dictatorships and autocratic governments but it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that’s worst of all. And no, it’s not an exaggeration. It’s not affecting hundreds of thousands, I was wrong. It’s affecting millions of Australians.

Sam,
So you think that workers in these industries should be able to place other, largely vulnerable people at higher risk of death and disease because of an inability to understand science. Got it.

No one has been forced to get Vaccinated, certain industries have placed reasonable safety restrictions to protect their own staff and the people they care for. Exactly the same way we do for countless other workplace safety risks.

Don’t like it? You are free to not work in those industries which cover a absolute tiny fraction of the entire workforce.

The more you compare it to authoritarian regimes amd dictatorships, the more ridiculous you look. Particularly when compared to what actual authoritarian regimes are doing right now in our world.

swaggieswaggie2:00 pm 27 Feb 22

these guys need to do something useful in life…just for once and this isn;t it!

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