At least 15 people have been arrested in Melbourne and another three in Sydney as hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters gathered across the country.
Victoria Police said approximately 200 people gathered at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance before moving to Albert Park Lake on Saturday. Protesters were calling for an end to the city’s Stage 4 restrictions, which include mandatory face masks and a nightly curfew.
A man who punched a police officer was arrested for assaulting police, while the other 14 people were apprehended for breaching directions of the Chief Health Officer.
A further 150 people were issued infringement notices.
A protester is arrested by Victoria Police officers outside of the Shrine of Remembrance.
A Victoria Police spokesperson also said an officer had suffered lacerations to the head after being assaulted at the protest.
“Despite all the warnings, it was disappointing to see individuals turn out to protest in the city today, putting the lives of Victorians at risk,” they said in a statement.
“Our investigations into this protest will continue, and we expect to issue further fines once the identity of individuals has been confirmed.”
Meanwhile, NSW Police said three protesters were arrested at an unauthorised rally in Sydney’s Hyde Park: two men, aged 44 and 54, for allegedly assaulting police and a woman for failing to comply with a move-on direction.
A further 19 people were issued with penalty infringement notices, and a 16-year-old boy was given a youth caution for not complying with a public health order.
A second demonstration took place in Homebush, in Sydney’s inner west, after the Hyde Park event was shut down, while a separate protest was held in Byron Bay on the NSW far-north coast.
Protesters also gathered in Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane to mark what protest organisers called “Freedom Day”.
The nationwide demonstrations followed the earlier arrest of five Victorians in relation to the planned events, including a pregnant Ballarat woman who posted a video of her arrest to social media on Wednesday.
“The tinfoil hat-wearing brigade are alive and well in our community,” Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said a week earlier, warning Victorians against attending the protests.
Victoria Police arrest and put a face mask on a protester outside of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.
“They’re taking every opportunity to leverage the current situation to serve their own ridiculous notions about so-called ‘sovereign citizens’, about constitutional issues and about how 5G is going to kill your grandkids.”
Protesters were gathering as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews delivered his daily coronavirus update, announcing a further 76 coronavirus cases and 11 fatalities.
Mr Andrews issued a general message to the protesters, telling them: “It’s not smart, it is not safe, it is not lawful, in fact, it’s absolutely selfish to be out there protesting”.
“The only fight we should be engaged in is against the virus.”
The state’s death toll has now soared past 600 to 661, pushing the national figure to 748.
Mr Andrews will on Sunday announce separate pathways for how and when Melbourne and regional Victoria will come out of respective stage four and three lockdowns.
Metropolitan Melbourne residents are subject to Stage 4 restrictions and must comply with a curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am. During the curfew, people in Melbourne can only leave their house for work, and essential health, care or safety reasons.
Between 5am and 8pm, people in Melbourne can leave the home for exercise, to shop for necessary goods and services, for work, for health care, or to care for a sick or elderly relative. All Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.