An estimated 10,000 protesters have swarmed the lawns of Parliament House today, protesting COVID-19 vaccinations and mask mandates.
It was a massive crowd but well short of the “one million Aussies” one of the leaders of the ‘Freedom Convoy to Canberra’, former Qantas pilot Graham Hood, called for on Facebook yesterday.
“Let’s face it – we’re going to encompass the whole ground,” he told more than 42,000 viewers during a Facebook live video.
Commonwealth Avenue, parts of Northbourne Avenue, and several adjacent roads were closed as the crowd made its way over the bridge and up to Parliament House today.
The sound of truck horns, motorcycle engines, speeches, and cheering could be heard from across the lake.
Together with resources from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), ACT Policing had a “significant presence” at the protest today.
“The crowd was generally well behaved,” a spokesperson said.
“Three people were arrested by police. One man was charged with multiple offences after he drove his truck through a roadblock and two men were taken into custody for breaching the peace.”
The Convoy arrived in Canberra on 31 January as a meagre number of people protesting vaccination and mask mandates. Since then, protest activity has exploded to impact travel and businesses across the ACT, with marches and rallies continuing to take place throughout the National Triangle and beyond.
ACT Policing suspected protest activity had peaked with a rally on the lawns of Parliament House on Tuesday, 8 February, for the first sitting day of Parliament but today’s numbers were well in excess of that.
Messages are mixed, with some division occurring after the assumed leaders of the group submitted a letter of eight demands to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and Speaker of the House on Tuesday that – if met – would “move towards resolution”.
“I want the borders open, I want the kids protected, I want the mandates dropped, I want our jobs back, and when all that dust settles there needs to be an investigation into how this came about, because it’s been a shocker,” Mr Hood said today.
Some were waving “Trump” flags, others called out “Sack them all”, while some went so far as to call for a public execution of politicians.
In a video posted to social media on Thursday night, protestors threatened to target the AIS mass vaccination clinic on Saturday, the same day the AIS planned a “Superhero Day” to encourage five to 11-year-olds to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
ACT Policing report no protest activity at AIS.
The Convoy is currently camped at Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC), but has been asked by management and police to vacate by Sunday evening as set up commences for the Royal Canberra Show.
Last night, as waves of cars and trucks arrived in readiness for today’s event, protesters knocked over the fence separating their camp from where the annual Lifeline Bookfair was set up. Police were called to the scene and continue to monitor the situation.
Lifeline initially cancelled the charity fundraiser for the day, but announced earlier this afternoon that the entire event had been cancelled and volunteers had begun packing up at EPIC.
In response, the ACT Government has announced it will make a $25,000 donation to support Lifeline Canberra following the disruption of their bookfair.
“Lifeline Canberra, through its dedicated volunteers, has not only supported this community through two of the most challenging years in our history but also for the last 50 years,” a spokesperson said.
“It is incredibly frustrating that one of the organisation’s most significant fundraising activities has been impacted in this way.”
Canberrans have also stepped up, donating directly to Lifeline Canberra to help address the shortfall
The government is also encouraging Canberrans to support the producers and market stallholders from the Capital Region Farmers Market who are operating from other venues this weekend due to the disruption at EPIC.
It’s understood much of the Convoy is planning to relocate to Queanbeyan Showgrounds.