Thousands of protesters marched across Australian cities on Saturday, demanding an end to lockdowns and strict restrictions imposed by governments seeking to curb COVID19 outbreaks. Attendees were largely maskless, with the the biggest crowd storming Sydney’s CBD on the same day the city recorded its largest number of virus cases.
Horrendous images and footage of the events rolled in, with police mobbed, abused and assaulted by some attendees deeming themselves as “freedom fighters”.
In Queensland, a similar albeit lawful protest took place with the usual political suspects capitalising on ugly social impulses.
Controversial Nationals’ MP, George Christensen was in attendance at the rally in Mackay, and voiced support for illegal protests occurring in Sydney by posting footage to social media alongside the caption: “Looks like thousands upon thousands of Sydneysiders are protesting against the removal of freedoms under the guise of the pandemic.”
He also actively promoted rallies across the country, claiming “civil disobedience eventually becomes the only response to laws that restrict freedom. This is what we’ve seen in Melbourne today.”
Despite widespread condemnation of the protests from all sides of politics, including Scott Morrison who labelled Sydney protesters as “selfish”, Christensen’s actions were defended by both the Prime Minister and his Deputy, Barnaby Joyce this morning, who suggested that “free speech” was entitled.
“Let’s be real about this – everybody has the liberty to say what they want,” Joyce told ABC radio.
“What you’re implying there is that any person in the parliament has the capacity to tell George Christensen what to do,” he added.
“I mean, are you proposing that we lock him up? Then you’re no further ahead than I am.”
Former Liberal MP turned independent, Craig Kelly also addressed the Brisbane protest by telephone while a video message from One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts blasted the social impacts of lockdowns.
John Ruddick, a Liberal Democrat candidate, went so far as to film himself at the unlawful Sydney rally, before boasting on social media about the $1,000 fine incurred for his attendance.
These politicians, who purport to be standing up for the interests of all Australians and their liberties, are in fact achieving the very opposite.
Epidemiologists, health professionals and experts have expressed their grave fear that Sydney’s protest in particular may lead to a “super spreader” event. With the city still recording more than 100 new transmissions of COVID a day, the risk of thousands gathering unmasked in this way, can’t be understated.
It’s understandable that Australians (and possibly many of these protesters) feel hopeless right now. With thousands of job losses and reduced incomes during rolling lockdowns, people are reaching breaking point. Perhaps some saw this protest as an opportunity to voice their anguish.
Politicians like Christensen, know this. They sniff it out and they capitalise on it, making Australians more vulnerable in the process.
Protests like this merely make it more difficult for others to get heard on the legitimate hardships they are experiencing.