While we’re focusing on the Melbourne riots, it is Australia’s weak official response that we should be focusing on.
We need to talk about what yesterday was. While it culminated in a Daryl Braithwaite song sung after demonstrators took the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne, there were running battles with the police, and apparently, urine hurled at a journalist, questions remain. To some, the uniform of the construction worker was worn by far-right elements to move through the crowd, hurling bottles from a place of anonymity.
The cleanest hi-vis vests you’ll ever see outside of the store. It’s almost as if they were purchased to impersonate tradies for a riot.#auspol #FakeTradies #MelbourneProtest pic.twitter.com/BnBromPJ0u
— Hayden O’Connor (@HaydenJOConnor) September 21, 2021
To others, it was our home-grown version of January 6. What makes it different, however, is the official response. The response of the Australian government to US President Donald Trump’s incitement of the January 6 attack on the US Congress was, shall we say, muted.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed his “distress” and his hope that order would soon be restored. However, he stopped far short of condemning the President, an extraordinary omission for the leader of a liberal democracy, considering Trump’s goal was to violently overthrow the results of a democratic election and retain his power.
Yesterday, not a word of rebuke was offered by the Federal Government, after the second-largest city in the country teetered on the edge of mayhem.
— Syrian Girl 🇸🇾🎗 (@Partisangirl) September 21, 2021
Who were these people, and indeed, who took the bridge? After all, why choose that spot to protest, as 32 workers were killed when it collapsed in 1970. Seems an odd place for a unionist to make a stand.
Victoria police deputy commissioner Rick Nugent was asked if the crowd was made up of construction workers, far-right agitators or vaccine activists. He said, “It’s all of that. It’s construction workers, it’s anti-vaxxers. They joined up with the so-called freedom rally protesters.
“But there are also a lot of people in that group that are using that as cover to come in and behave in a riotous manner. To vandalise property and take a cheap shot at police. You can see from the footage, they hiding the mod, and then I run out, and they king-hit, or they throw bottles, cans, any other items they can get their hands on. So it’s a mixture of all of those…
“Certainly some regulars. We did say a lot of people put on the high vis vests that you can tell aren’t normally tradies.”
Yet, Canberra’s official silence is the salient point. In January, after the attack on US Congress, members of the Morrison government took to social media to comment on Twitter banning Donald Trump for life. This, it appears, is the great injustice, an affront to “free speech,” and, wait for it, censorship.
Craig Kelly, Nationals backbencher George Christensen, Member for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and (then) acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack are among government members who have condemned the “silencing” of Trump.
Christensen started a petition demanding legislation to rein in the big tech overlords. Sharma called for a “publicly accountable body” to control who social media companies can and cannot refuse to host on their platforms. Frydenberg said he is “uncomfortable” with Twitter’s decision to dump Donald, leaving this writer to wonder how “uncomfortable” Mr Frydenberg is with the spectacle of Trump’s anti-Semitic foot soldiers wearing shirts declaring that “6 million wasn’t enough.”
Michael McCormack went on to state that “violence is violence and we condemn it in all its forms,” except, apparently, when incited by President Trump, whom McCormack has conspicuously failed to condemn.
They want freedom!
They want an end to tyranny!
They want to sing Horses by Daryl Braithwaite on the Westgate Bridge like the oppressed minority that they are!
And they especially don’t want a needle, Mummy, cause it’s big and scary!
Dear God.#melbourneprotest #MelbourneRiots pic.twitter.com/zA0ZD4PMZJ
— Fiona Adorno 💙 (@FionaAdorno) September 21, 2021
In regards to the violence in Melbourne, Premier Dan Andrews said: “There is no excuse for the terrible behaviour we have seen in our city over the last two days. Acts of violence and disruption won’t result in one less case of Covid – in fact, it only helps the virus to spread.
“Thank you to the brave men and women of Victoria police for their work today – and every day – to keep our community safe. We know vaccinations are our only ticket out of this pandemic. There is no other way.
“For those who think violence is the answer, I ask that you think of your fellow Victorians – doing the right thing over many months, following the advice of our health experts. We have come too far to turn back now.
“Please spare a thought for our healthcare workers who are working such long hours looking after patients, many who are struggling to breathe. The more of us who get vaccinated, the fewer of us will end up in hospital. It’s as simple as that.”
The only official response from the Federal government came from Barnaby Joyce (who is in charge while Scott Morrison is in America), who asked Andrews to “take control back”, but stopped short of criticising those who conducted themselves poorly.
“You can’t just have the middle of (the) town taken over by a marauding group of people; I know those people have concerns, I understand that completely I know people have frustrations about being locked up.” Mr Joyce told Sky News Australia.
With Melbourne set to experience demonstrations for the third day running, with neither side backing down (the Victorian Police Commissioner has “guaranteed” that they will act “swiftly”), it might be time for actual leadership.
Dr Jennifer Wilson contributed to this report.