A large and violent anti-lockdown protest has ended in Melbourne, with Victoria Police reporting the arrests of 218 people and the hospitalisation of six officers.
More than 4,000 people flocked to the Melbourne CBD on Saturday for the unlawful event, as similar, smaller ‘freedom rally’ demonstrations were also held in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
Some 700 police officers were deployed on Saturday morning as protesters converged outside Victoria’s Parliament House.
Pictures taken outside Flinders Street Station showed police facing off with protesters and pepper spraying them.
Footage posted on social media also showed crowds of mask-less people cheering and letting off flares.
Victoria Police said in a statement on Saturday evening the majority of those who attended the protest “came with violence in mind”.
“The behaviour seen by police was so hostile and aggressive that they were left with no choice but to use all tactics available to them,” the statement said.
“For the first time during lockdown protests, police were forced to use a range of non-lethal options including pepper ball rounds and OC foam canisters in an effort to disperse the crowd.”
Police said they issued 236 fines and had three people in custody for assaulting officers. Every arrested protester would be fined $5,452, they said.
Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said on Saturday morning police were fining people for being more than 5km from home even before the protest began.
Victoria recorded 61 new locally acquired coronavirus cases on Saturday, including 39 that were infectious in the community.
Premier Daniel Andrews condemned the protesters during his daily press conference.
“Protesting doesn’t work against this virus. In fact, it will contribute to the spread of this virus, and the more cases we have the longer we’ll be locked down,” he said.
In Sydney, the presence of at least 1,500 police officers prevented large numbers from attending a demonstration in the city.
In a statement on Saturday afternoon, NSW Police Force said it arrested 47 people and issued 261 penalty infringement notices across the Sydney CBD and regional NSW.
NSW Police Minister David Elliott said he was disappointed some people ignored warnings to stay at home.
“[It] is disappointing, frustrating and – frankly – disgraceful,” he said.
“The actions they have taken are likely to prolong the very lockdown they were protesting about.”
Taxis and Ubers were banned from taking passengers into the CBD until 3pm.
NSW recorded 825 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday – the country’s highest-ever daily increase.
On Friday, an alleged organiser of the Sydney protest was sentenced to at least three months’ jail for failing to comply with NSW public health orders.
Queensland-based Victorian Anthony Khallouf, 29, pleaded guilty to breaching public health orders by driving to Sydney last weekend.
He was sentenced by magistrate Robyn Denes to a non-parole period of three months’ imprisonment, with an aggregate term of eight months.
An estimated crowd of thousands also gathered in Brisbane City Botanic Gardens on Saturday to rally against lockdown and vaccine measures.
“Wake up sheeple,” one sign read.
Queensland Police said no arrests had been made.
Meanwhile in Perth, an estimated 1,000 people gathered at the Kings Park war memorial for a rally that was condemned by the RSL.
Images uploaded to social media showed protesters carrying signs denouncing West Australian Premier Mark McGowan and mandatory vaccines.
The ABC reported several men wearing the uniform of The Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, were among the crowd.