29 March 2022

Protest against COVID-19 restrictions returns, but what do they want now?

| James Coleman
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Protestors outside Parliament House

ACT Policing estimates around 300 protesters converged on the Parliament House lawns today. Photos: James Coleman.

The protest against COVID-19 vaccination mandates has returned to the lawns of Parliament House this morning, hoping to attract national attention as the Budget is handed down.

In a now-familiar scenario, protesters converged on Commonwealth Park at 10 am before moving up Commonwealth Avenue and meeting at Federation Mall for a rally beginning at 11 am.

One man has been arrested after he failed to follow a police direction to enter a random breath testing operation, according to ACT Policing.

“He was repeatedly asked to move his vehicle as it was blocking the flow of traffic,” the ACT Policing spokesperson said.

A speaker began by describing the 300-strong crowd as “small in numbers but united in purpose”.

Malcolm Roberts speaking at the rally

One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts speaking at the rally.

Several politicians delivered speeches supporting the protestors, including One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts, Liberal National member for Dawson (Queensland) George Christensen, and United Australia Party leader Craig Kelly.

The protesters have previously expressed joy over the perceived success of the rallies, which have gathered outside several of Canberra’s national institutions since the so-called ‘Freedom Convoy to Canberra’ rolled in on 31 January. COVID-19 restrictions have largely been lifted across the states and territories.

In the ACT, as of 25 February, face masks have only been required in high-risk settings such as public transport, hospitals, and aged-care facilities.

READ ALSO ACT Health cites ‘privacy’ excuse for COVID secrecy, but how does this stack up against other jurisdictions?

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr also resisted vaccination mandates since the beginning of the pandemic in the ACT in March 2020, citing the sheer number of Canberrans who have rolled up their sleeves for the jab as a reason mandates weren’t necessary.

Nationally, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously said he “understands” the concerns of the protestors but that the Federal Government has only ever supported mandatory vaccinations for aged care and disability workers, as well as health workers in high-risk situations.

“All other mandates that relate to vaccines have been imposed unilaterally by state governments,” he said. “They have not been put in place by the Commonwealth government.”

Protestors and their signs

Protestors outside Parliament House today (29 March).

International borders are open again, but only to travellers who can provide proof of double vaccination against COVID-19.

Former Qantas pilot, frequent speaker at the rallies and “man of faith” Graham Hood said he and hundreds of others have returned to Canberra because the fight is far from over.

“It’s not just lifting a few mandates because the situation has eased,” he said in an interview with Region Media. “It’s about making sure these mandates aren’t foisted on us every time the government decides it wants us to be afraid of something. That takes away our fundamental freedoms.”

Graham Hood, former Qantas pilot and rally speaker, wearing a shirt depicting his father before he went off to fight in World War II.

He said there are still “rogue premiers” out there seeking to give themselves “draconian emergency powers they have proven they can’t manage”.

“My agenda is really simple. I came into this to end the mandates, to open the borders, to give parents the right to decide for themselves without coercion about what procedures their children go through, and to see an enquiry into how this has gone wrong.”

Writing slogans on the pavement in chalk.

Wearing a crocheted poppy pinned to a shirt depicting his father before he went off to fight in World War II, Graham said it’s hard to tell if the rallies are working, but they are at least creating awareness.

“I think our biggest battle has been that there is so much pent-up emotion about the issues that are going on in this country, that when something like this happens, it brings everyone together with different opinions and the movement can sometimes look fractured,” he said.

“Whatever it is that brings you here, you’re here because you feel the government has overstepped the mark. You no longer trust the government, you no longer trust the mainstream media, you no longer trust the bureaucracy, and you have a sovereign right to voice that concern.”

Police guarding Parliament House.

ACT Policing is continuing to monitor protest activity around the Parliamentary Precinct while also seeking the public’s assistance in identifying a man allegedly involved in an assault at Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) while protesters were camped there in early February.

On Thursday, 10 February, a 67-year-old woman was allegedly assaulted during an altercation. The woman, a worker at a venue inside EPIC, sustained fractures to both her wrists, requiring surgery.

The man may have travelled from Victoria as part of the protests and is aged in his 30s, about 190 cm tall (6’3″), with dark hair and a slim build.

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If you confront and attack them you can understand if they retaliate. Leave them alone and they’ll go away. Don’t confront unless your willing to go all the way

I still want accountability for the damage done by government action in response to the pandemic. In the ACT, I believe this requires the resignation of the Chief Minister and Health Minister at the very least. The precedents they set cannot be allowed to stand.

The only thing wrong with that is the dimwits waiting in the wings to take over

The calibre of the speaker politicians (Malcolm Roberts, George Christensen, and Craig Kelly) immediately makes you cautious about the people they are speaking too. With Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying he “understands” the concerns of the protestors makes me doubly concerned. If the PM understands their concerns then maybe he should tell the rest of us who are finding these people a mystery.

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