7 February 2022

Protesters should not take capital's tolerance and hospitality for granted

| Ian Bushnell
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Convoy to Canberra protest

Protestors being removed from the Patrick White Lawns. Photo: James Coleman.

The freedom protesters who decided to inhabit the lawns of the Parliamentary Zone have learned that the national capital’s hospitality extends only so far.

They certainly have a right to come to the centre of the nation’s democracy to vent their frustration at the social restrictions, mask and vaccine mandates that have marked government attempts to prevent the spread and limit the impacts of the COVID-19 virus.

While most people accept that the public health orders have been in our best interest, there have been genuine concerns about a creeping loss of rights.

But as the protests themselves have shown, their messages are confused and often conflated with internet conspiracy theories and a fair dose of another virus that wants to infect the Australian body politic – the Trumpian notion of an alienated and ignored people who need to take back their country.

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It’s a notion that culminated in the mob that stormed the US Capitol a little more than a year ago and sent a shudder through representative democracies everywhere.

Aside from that frightening spectre, many of our visitors have been just plain rude and abusive, setting up camp without regard to the rules, law or basic hygiene needs.

It is to the credit of the authorities and police that the inevitable process of moving them on has been done with a patience and a firmness that has resulted in few arrests and minimal violence.

old parliament house fire

The fire at Old Parliament House in late December. Photo: Supplied.

Canberra should be a place where people’s views can be expressed freely and be seen and heard by those in power. The Parliament itself is embedded in the earth as symbolic of being a part of the country, not above it.

Federation Mall is designed to host gatherings, celebrations and protests and plays an important role in the interface between the elected and the people they serve.

Our city has seen various protests from climate and environmental activists, Indigenous rights campaigners, trade unionists, farmers, and even truck drivers.

This is democracy’s safety valve that prevents pressure building to dangerous levels.

Protesters are given a great degree of tolerance in our city. The Extinction Rebellion group has reverted to disruptive tactics to gain attention, gluing themselves to roads and stopping traffic, to the annoyance of motorists who might agree with them but really don’t want to be late home or part of the evening news.

But police have dealt with them efficiently, professionally, and again, with patience.

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It took several days for the National Capital Authority to decide enough was enough with the parliamentary zone squatters. Even then, the police gave them fair warning before moving in the next day.

But in late December, that right to protest went too far when the historic front doors to Old Parliament House went up in smoke, causing millions of dollars in damage, but more to the point, scarring an institution dedicated to Australian democracy.

It was a hurt felt deeply by Canberrans who value the privilege of living in the national capital.

The event echoed the 1996 violent storming of Parliament House by radical unionists that followed what had been a peaceful protest on the Mall.

Symbols matter, and when they are damaged or defaced, what they represent can also suffer.

Those cleared from the Patrick White Lawns will undoubtedly point to the 50-year-old Aboriginal Tent Embassy and say they are being treated unfairly, but that has a long history of accommodation steeped in the long and ongoing struggle for Indigenous recognition.

It is even listed on the National Estate by the Australian Heritage Commission as a place of special significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.

It continues to evolve, and its role may change again with the development of the Ngarra Indigenous cultural precinct nearby.

For those who join cavalcades to the capital or take protests to its streets, it would be good to remember to respect the democratic institutions that enable such actions and the city that is your host.

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Scott Anthony10:23 pm 13 Feb 22

I’m not sure you can say that ‘most people accept that the public health orders have been in our best interest’… most people complied with the orders but its a stretch to say they agreed, or now 2 years later, still agree..!! Don’t fool yourself into thinking compliance equals acquiescence, most people were scared to lose their jobs and plenty still lost the right to see family, go to funerals or other life events. This is why plenty of the protestors are vaccinated, but fed up with the restrictions, and thats fair, they complied and its still not back to normal 2 years later.

Crazed_Loner1:49 am 11 Feb 22

In my suburb, which I’m leaving unnamed because I don’t want to give the culprits a skerrick of extra publicity, we have been subjected to, and trolled by, a relentless and continuing campaign of vandalism in the form of multiple anti-vaxx stickers being attached to all sorts of public infrastructure, such as bus shelters, barbeques, children’s playground shelters (!), information signs, traffic signs, ACTEW boxes and, particularly, light poles for the last five months or so by a small group of these unhinged anti-vaxx fanatics. At one stage, they were seemingly on every light pole, at least those out of sight of security cameras. People have responded by either removing them with, say, a paint scraper, blacking them out, or spray-painting over them seemingly as fast as they go up but it seems it has descended into a game of cat-and-mouse. They come around in the middle, and I mean the very middle, of the night because they are as cowardly as they are antisocial. Some of the stickers are just loopy, some reality-denying and some white supremacist in their content, and the QR code on them takes you to QAnon. Say no more! And all ignore that they have lost the argument in this city of all cities, long ago.
So, I have zero tolerance of these latest anti-vaxx wingnuts and associated ratbags disrupting day-to-day life in our city, putting it under effective siege, nor harassing and bullying people going about their lives. I understand some like to target solitary young women about mask-wearing or similar because of their victims’ vulnerability. There’s a name for that. What they are doing has exceeded normal political protest and they have revealed themselves to collectively be a self-absorbed, fanatical ragbag of political fringe-dwellers, conspiracists and out-and-out nutbags.
Go home!

As a Canberra I welcome them. I don’t agree with everything they say, but I do agree with some of it. There is a diversity of views out there and that is what democracy is all about. The greater danger comes from those who try to shut down debate and prevent the expression of views different from their own. Hearing slogans and seeing banners you don’t like is not harrassment. Starting online petitions against protest activity and personally insulting those with different opinions to your own is far more offensive.

What about blocking roads, harassing people going about their lawful business and arguing for an overthrow of our dwmocratically elected government which have been staple features of these protests?

Or are you OK with that because you agree with them?

Did you have the same opinion around the BLM and Extinction Rebellion protesters in the last couple of years?

Targeting businesses like some of them have been however is harassment Acton – they haven’t been the perfect citizens you want to pretend they are – far from it.

People can peacefully protest all they want – no matter how loopy some of their ideas. When they start directly impacting on people doing their own thing or businesses undertaking their lawful business, that’s where the buck stops for mine.

And that’s before Chewy’s important points about overthrowing governments.

This mob has an element of normal people protesting, but also has a significant element of the utter knobheads out there using it as an excuse for more extremist behaviour.

If thousands of us drove into their towns, blocked their major roads and interupted their life’s, I’m sure they’d be a little miffed.

HiddenDragon7:47 pm 07 Feb 22

“…..the Trumpian notion of an alienated and ignored people who need to take back their country.”

That might seem like a “notion” to people who’ve not lost a cent of income, seen the value of their hard assets rise, and their mortgage (if they have one) rate fall during the pandemic – but to many others, it’s very much a reality.

We’ll see how much of a notion it is when Australia’s public and private debt bombs explode and the numbers taking to the streets have an extra zero or two on the crowd estimates.

Take a drive through the campsite and you’ll see plenty of $100k+ utes & 4WDs (albeit taxpayer subsidised).

These people aren’t hard done by battlers – they are the victims of their own resentment towards following rules or taking advice from people who are objectively smarter than them.

To say that people who respect the rules, work hard, contribute to society, spend their money wisely (i.e. on investments in appreciating assets), pay the rate base and reside in a city now held hostage by a circus lack empathy with these radicalised facebook echo chamber dwellers is beyond hillarious.

As for the numbers on the street – They are an absolute minority. Their numbers are sourced from all over Australia, yet their numbers have maxed out at roughly 20% of the ACT’s school strike for climate. Doesn’t exactly scream revolution.

SmirkingNick3:58 pm 13 Feb 22

The protests are a product of a lack of trust in government and other social institutions. And who is to blame for that?

After a week of protests, I’m still don’t understand why? They are a collection of protest groups, with different agendas that seem to loosely linked together for the sake of protesting!

They protest outside the Federal Parliament House, when Parliament isn’t sitting yet their protests are principally about issues that State and Territory control.

And sadly, if they thought that the PM could overthrow the States, they haven’t read the Constitution. (We aren’t a dictatorship).

So, in my opinion, all they have managed to do is to disrupt the daily lives of ordinary everyday Canberrians.

I guess they’ve had a fun holiday. Now go home.

I don’t think they really care about process or understanding how governments work to be honest. Just want to be loud and noisy for the sake of it really – they are entitled to their opinions and right to protest, but what irks most is the disruption to lives of other people that could be easily avoided. Shows a huge level of disrepect to fellow citizens.

Peter Stanley2:01 pm 07 Feb 22

Canberrans have a responsibility to represent the nation’s values in response to the challenge from the irresponsible idiots, fools, conspiracists and scientific illiterates who have infested our city. We are 98% vaccinated: we trust in our medical scientists. We need to say to these dupes and knaves, ‘You have a right to make your views known, but you are objectively scientifically wrong. You have endangered the vulnerable in our community by your maskless, unvaccinated presence and you have impeded our lives. Go home, read something besides conspiracy websites and grow up’. My response to them is to point at them and laugh – it is pointless even listening to them – they deserve ridicule and disdain.

John McClane2:12 pm 07 Feb 22

Lol they really don’t have that responsibility. You are an absolute dreamer, Canberrans are not defenders of the law or your opinion.

Tom Worthington1:59 pm 07 Feb 22

Canberra benefits from groups of school children coming to learn about democracy. Perhaps there should be similar services and facilities for groups of protesters. There could be areas set aside to protest, with some politicians on a roster to talk to them. There would be accommodation packages available, as well as side tours.

Jennie Johnson12:54 pm 07 Feb 22

These bogans need to go home get a life and work. They have a right to protest but not to put Canberra residents lives at risk. They have turned up at supermarkets without masks. My 85 year old mother still does her own shopping. Why is this allowed by authorities and the supermarket management? No support from my family and friends. They just make me angry.

It’s not allowed. But what exactly do you want the police and business owners to do? I’m sure the supermarket managers would rather these people would leave and not make trouble and as for the police by the time they rocked up the protester would just move onto the next unsuspecting business.

This collection of misguided souls will probably leave after Parliament sits on 8 February. They want the politicians to listen to their grievances (good luck there) and for some to come out and support them (maybe George Christensen?). After this they will move on. Any that choose to hang around and make a pest of themselves will soon find the tolerance of the public and the restraint of the local police is ended

Is this protest actually linked to the group who set fire to the OPH or is it a different set of protestors or is it asymmetrical enough that its two arms of the same thing ?

“While most people accept that the public health orders have been in our best interest…”

I’m not sure this is true. To be charitable, they may have been done with good intentions, but isn’t the same thing as in our best interest.

For example, mandatory QR codes probably just made the lives of contact tracers more difficult with no tangible benefit:
https://theconversation.com/the-covidsafe-app-was-designed-to-help-contact-tracers-we-crunched-the-numbers-to-see-what-really-happened-172242

Who is being held responsible for taking away our privacy for no benefit? Someone really needs to see jail time for doing something like that. It simply isn’t good enough to say “best interests” for something so fundamentally flawed.

For their next trick TheSilver will prove ships don’t float, because a zeppelin caught fire and besides, a bee is just a grapefruit in disguise.

The Silver,
Hi, the Covid Safe App you refer to in your link is a Commonwealth Covid Safe app and it has NEVER been complusory. Frankly, it’s pretty useless.
The Check-apps that have been complusory, have been the State & Territory Apps and prior to Omicron, they operated well.

I hope its just in error that you pointed to an article about the useless Commonwealth COVID Safe App, that frankly was a waste of time and is basically irrelevant to the state based apps.

The state based apps served an important purpose prior to Omicron – they are next to useless now, but that’s only because sheer volume means its basically impossible to use them for their original purpose. Given where we are now, there is little purpose to maintaining their use.

To suggest there was no benefit from the state based apps during the period where suppressing COVID was the general policy is absolutely false. They played a significant role in broadly achieving that outcome.

And if your really worried someone is going to go to the effort to dig through said data and then find some actual purpose for it, then maybe its time to go get a tin foil hat made…. Privacy of course is important – not saying it isn’t. But what on earth of any great interest would anyone do with said check in data. Wow you take an 90 minutes at the supermarket, or went to 5 different shops on your latest shopping trip. Frankly – who cares?

As Jello Biafra once said “Give me convenience or give me death”.

These protests are basically identical to the previous illogical and irrational protests we’ve seen in Canberra over the last couple of years. From Extinction Rebellion to BLM to these idiots, they don’t understand how to influence the public and direct their efforts in the wrong place.

Also, the Tent Embassy doesn’t get a pass because the author agrees with them and they’ve been here a long time.

These recent protesters just highlight the hypocrisy of allowing some people to camp in the area but not others. It actually feeds in to the arguments around distrust in the government’s actions and the Tent Embassy “residents” should also have been removed long ago.

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