Thousands rallied in Melbourne and other Australian cities on Saturday to protest pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates.
In Melbourne, the capital of Victoria State, protesters gathered outside the state Parliament and marched through the central business district. They waved Australian flags, chanting, “No more mandates” and “Kill the bill.”
It was the latest demonstration after a week of escalating protests over a contentious pandemic powers bill that the state government is seeking to pass within the next month. The bill would replace a state of emergency that is set to lapse on Dec. 15, allowing officials to continue enforcing restrictions related to lockdowns, masking requirements and vaccination mandates.
It would also allow the state government to make new pandemic orders that it determines would help protect public health. The Liberal Party and some legal and rights groups have raised concerns about the bill’s broad scope.
Over the past week, protesters have camped outside Victoria’s Capitol as the government negotiated passage of the bill. Lawmakers who support the bill have reported receiving death threats and being targets of abuse.
The protests on Saturday also targeted vaccination requirements. Although Australia has no broad vaccine mandate, individual states have introduced mandatory vaccination for some workers, including those in construction, education and health care. In Victoria, unvaccinated people are not allowed to eat in restaurants or to visit shops unless they are buying essential goods like food and medicine.
Pro-vaccination campaigners staged a smaller demonstration in Melbourne’s central business district on Saturday. The police kept the two groups apart.
Anti-vaccine crowds also gathered in Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney, the country’s biggest city.
Among those gathered in Sydney was Craig Kelly, a federal lawmaker who quit the governing Liberal Party this year after facing criticism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison for spreading anti-vaccination misinformation and promoting unproven coronavirus treatments. On Saturday, he addressed thousands of anti-vaccination protesters at a park in Sydney’s central business district.
“When we have governments that adopt vaccine passports, we’re no longer free,” he said. “We don’t live in a free society — we live in a prison camp.”