Angry protesters, hitting out over calls for mandatory vaccines for construction workers, blocked one of Melbourne's busiest motorways and caused chaos throughout the city.
Up to 2000 protesters, many believed to be tradies, marched on Melbourne's bustling West Gate Freeway on Tuesday about 2pm.
Some stopped in the middle of the roadway to block traffic. One group was seen carrying a sign which read: "F*** the jab" and "Do not consent".
Others broke into a rendition of Daryl Braithwaite's Horses.
Officers, journalist injured in 'challenging' rally
Speaking after the rally, police described the protest as "very challenging" and said 44 people had been arrested.
Three police officers were injured at the event along with a journalist who was put in a headlock and had a can thrown at his head.
Earlier, the crowd took to Melbourne’s CBD, following on from Monday's protests. Many in high-visibility gear were heard chanting “every day” as they headed towards Victoria’s Parliament House and were met with armoured police.
"Attention, this is a police public order warning. You have previously been directed to leave," an officer inside a line of riot police and officers on horseback told the crowd.
"Leave now or force may be used. No further warnings will be given."
Many called for the lockdown to end. Some let off flares and fireworks. One man held a sign which read: “Free the education, free the economy, free the people.”
The sign also called for “no vaccine mandates”.
— DeeTee (@dazzler2208) September 21, 2021
Reporter hit by can on live TV
Seven News reporter Paul Dowsley was filming a live cross amid the crowds when he was struck in the back of the head by a can launched from across the road.
"That really hurt," he told Mike Amor in the studio as he indicated he could not continue.
Becoming emotional he listed the abuse he had received throughout the day.
— Blake Johnson (@BlakeJohnson) September 21, 2021
"I've been grabbed around the neck, I've had urine tipped on me and now I've had a can of energy drink thrown on me."
Amor called the behaviour "acts of cowardice".
CFMEU secretary targeted again
Others voiced their displeasure with the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) Victorian secretary John Setka after fiery scenes outside the CFMEU office on Monday.
Mr Setka has voiced support for vaccinations but said he was pro-choice.
“Setka the sellout,” one sign read.
"There was a group there who certainly targeted us a few minutes ago, we were standing on a seat trying to get an elevated view as the protest group walked past. A few in the crowd had it in for mainstream media," Dowsley said in a live cross following the assault.
Protesters moved on from parliament just after midday.
Victoria's treasurer Tim Pallas called Monday's protests "reprehensible" and the behaviour of those involved "abhorrent".
"It's a sad day, I think, in many ways, for a lot of the construction industry workers," he said.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said the protest has been called for, led and promoted by far-right and anti-vax groups.
"This is an example of these groups hijacking concerns that some people have in the community, and spreading lies, misinformation about the vaccine to further their own ends," she told the ABC.
"In the end these lies are really, really dangerous and the only way to minimise illness in this pandemic is through the vaccine."
'No choice' but to shutdown construction
There was "no choice" but to shut down swathes of Victoria's construction industry because of the spread of Covid-19 and low public health compliance, the state government says.
Health Minister Martin Foley on Tuesday defended a late-night decision to close down construction in locked-down Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat, the Mitchell Shire and Surf Coast.
He said for weeks the government had been warning of high cases linked to construction sites, with outbreaks taking hold in a young and mobile workforce.
"We have also reflected on poor levels of compliance with health directions, and poor levels of application of CovidSafe principles and practices in multiple workplaces, big, small and in between," Mr Foley told reporters.
"As a result of these figures, the public health team was left with no choice but to hit the pause button and continue working with the sector over these next two weeks to improve compliance."
Mr Foley said there are 403 cases directly linked to construction from 186 work sites.
Of those, 151 sites are in metropolitan Melbourne with 362 connected cases - including 49 people who live in regional Victoria.
An audit of about 200 construction sites on Thursday found 73 per cent were failing to comply with health directions.
The government said all sites will need to demonstrate compliance with the chief health officer's directions prior to reopening, including proof workers have had at least one dose of a vaccine before they return to work on October 5.
The shutdown began on the same day Victoria recorded 603 new Covid-19 cases and one death.
It was the highest daily tally in the current outbreak, and highest since August, 2020.
It brings the total number of active cases in the state to 6000 and the number of deaths from this outbreak to 13.
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