Vaccine Mandate Protests Lead to at Least 60 Arrests, Construction Shut Downs in Australia

Police arrested more than 60 of the estimated 2,000 people protesting Australia's lockdown measures and vaccine mandates after demonstrations shut down a freeway and construction sites.

Officials in the Australian state of Victoria shut down the building and construction industry for two weeks on Monday after seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases and a violent protest. Monday's demonstration in the city of Melbourne targeted a vaccine mandate that requires all construction workers to have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the week.

"We've kept our industry going safely since COVID hit us and we've tried to keep our members all working, and to now see, because of a handful of drunken idiots, there's 300,000-plus workers sitting at home for at least the next two weeks, it's very disappointing," John Setka, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) construction branch secretary, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Monday.

The Guardian estimated costs of the shutdown could be a loss of $455 million a day and $63 million in lost wages. Rebecca Cason, the chief executive of the Masters Builders Association of Victoria, told the Guardian it was a "bitter blow" to the industry.

australia melbourne protest anti-vaccine mandate
At least 60 people were arrested on Tuesday during anti-vaccine mandate protests in Melbourne, Australia. Protesters are seen holding placards as they walk towards Westgate Bridge as thousands march through Melbourne after State Government announces construction shutdown on September 21 in Melbourne, Australia. Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

The CFMEU building, where protesters gathered on Monday, was damaged during Monday's protests. It prompted the deployment of riot police to the area, but did little to squelch the movement. Demonstrators gathered again on Tuesday, shutting down parts of the city and the West Gate Bridge on Tuesday. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters to get them to disperse, according to Reuters.

Premier Daniel Andrews condemned the violence and anger on Twitter, writing that it won't make the pandemic end "any quicker" or prevent people from being hospitalized with COVID-19. He pushed for people to get vaccinated against the virus and "follow the rules."

Police arrested more than 60 people by Tuesday evening and more are expected, according to the Australian Associated Press (AAP). Three officers were injured during the two days of demonstrations and Shane Patton, chief commissioner of the Victoria Police, warned people to not come back on Wednesday because "very different tactics" would be deployed.

"Crowds like this are cowards, cowards who seek to hide their identity ... to do other things that if they were by themselves would not have the courage to do," Patton said at a press conference. "It's disgraceful."

The past two days of protests comes on the heels of Saturday's anti-lockdown rallies in Melbourne that left six police officers hospitalized, according to Reuters. Amid an outbreak of the Delta variant, Australian officials put Melbourne on lockdown, restricting how far people can travel from their homes, who can gather outdoors and the implementation of a nightly curfew. Plans Andrews released show the lockdown measures are expected to be in place until October. Easing restrictions is based on increases in vaccinations.

Industrial Relations Minister Tim Pallas told AAP that many people in Victoria were voting with their arms to get out of lockdown by getting vaccinated. He criticized those who are engaging in "selfish and illegal actions" because they seem to want to "marinate in Qanon conspiracy theories" and wander "around the city, causing mayhem."