Protesters against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for the construction industry and other health restrictions have blocked a Melbourne freeway.
Hundreds of protesters, many wearing hi-vis gear, started their second day of protests outside Melbourne’s CFMEU headquarters on Tuesday morning before moving on to Parliament following warnings from the riot squad.
The crowd circled the city centre for hours before making their way to the West Gate freeway entrance just after 2pm, bringing traffic to a standstill at the entry ramp.
VicTraffic has closed the freeway in both directions between Williamstown Road and the Monash Freeway and is urging drivers to exit as soon as possible.
Drivers who are inbound should exit at Todd Road, and outbound drivers should leave Domain Tunnel exit at Power Street.
The West Gate Freeway is closed in both directions between Williamstown Road and the Monash Freeway, due to protesters. Inbound traffic will be sent off at Williamstown Road. Drivers on the Monash Freeway inbound will exit at Punt Road with the Domain Tunnel closed. #victraffic https://t.co/Ss2ak48zPp
— VicTraffic (@VicTraffic) September 21, 2021
Earlier, the riot squad, supported by police on horseback, warned the group to stay back and fired rubber bullets into the crowd near the Queen Victoria Market.
Empty bottles and cans were thrown back at police.
The crowd then walked towards the police line with hands raised chanting “you serve us”.
Empty cans of rum and cola lay strewn across the road outside Parliament once the crowd had moved on from there.
Many walking with the crowd are carrying cans and bottles of alcohol, others are wearing the Australian flag as a cape, another is carrying a Trump 2020 flag.
Most are wearing some form of hi-vis or workwear.
Flares and fireworks have been set off throughout the day and a news crew assaulted.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has called on city protesters to “stop thinking only of themselves, stop the violence and put the health and welfare of the Victorian community first.”
“Nurses, midwives and carers are exhausted and frustrated as they watch protesters fight for their right to overwhelm our health system,” secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said in a statement.
The rally is opposing a Victorian government mandate requiring all construction workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The group were chanting “f*** the jab” and “f*** off (Premier) Dan Andrews” but were blocked from accessing the CFMEU offices by a line of police officers.
On Monday, riot police were called in to disperse a group of about 500 protesters, who threw bottles at Victorian CFMEU construction secretary John Setka and smashed the office’s door down.
Mr Setka said the protesters were not all CFMEU members and blamed “neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists” for hijacking the event.
“There was a small minority of construction workers, some of them when it all got violent just walked away from it. It was hijacked by the professional protesters,” Mr Setka told ABC radio National on Tuesday morning.
He said the CFMEU was “pro-vax” but had always supported freedom of choice and urged the Victorian government to tackle misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
Federal member for Maribyrnong and former union leader Bill Shorten said he believed a group of professional troublemakers were to blame for Monday’s “shocking violence”.
On Monday night, the state government announced the industry would be shut down from Tuesday for two weeks in metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire.
All worksites will need to demonstrate compliance with health directions before reopening.
This includes a requirement for workers to show evidence of having had at least one dose of a vaccine before they return to work on October 5.