‘Every day’ Melbourne Rebellion – The Rise of Australia’s Yellow Vests | Ilija Dokmanovic
It’s been one of the busiest weeks in Australian politics in recent memory. I had planned to write about the disastrous foreign policy conduct in the previous week by the Morrison government that has severely damaged our relationship with France and Europe. With undertones of negging to it, Australia withdrew on its commitment to purchasing French-built submarines, without even having the decency to inform the French until an hour before the joint “AUKUS” press conference with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the senile US President Joe Biden. As it happens, there have been larger developments at home, especially in Victoria, that are sending shockwaves throughout the once incredibly docile political body of the “most livable city in the world”.
Mass unrest and resentment at the Daniel Andrews government and his severe lockdowns have suddenly come crashing into fruition. Melbourne has been engulfed by mass demonstrations and raucous protests by disgruntled tradies, small business owners and people opposing the vaccination mandates and lockdowns. It would be a lie to say that these feelings haven’t been bubbling and brewing for a while; many in Melbourne and Greater Victoria have been subject to the most severe COVID crackdowns on Earth. The Premier’s coercive and predatory tactics to “get jabs in arms” are a key part of Premier Andrew’s “roadmap” plan to reopening.
While Premier Andrews has tried his best with daily press conferences and finger-wagging at any of his detractors, his popularity has plummeted amongst much of his key base. The union tradies of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) have ignited the spark for this week’s protests.
The CFMEU headquarters in Melbourne were surrounded by a large group of disgruntled men and women in Hi-vis jackets and vests on Monday, protesting the vaccination mandates that have been announced by the government for those working in the trades. This came only a week after tradies set up tables and chairs in streets across Melbourne, creating their own make-shift tea rooms after gatherings for lunch and smoke breaks were banned. Windows were broken, doors were smashed, and Union boss John Setka was hounded by workers once loyal to the organization that was meant to represent their interests. In response to the demands of workers to reject any sort of proposed vaccination mandate, the Victorian government has shut down construction work in the State for the foreseeable future. This was a short-sighted bully tactic and it triggered the mass demonstrations on Tuesday, September 21 2021.
Tuesday’s demonstrations have been unlike anything Melbournians have experienced before. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of people swarmed the streets and countered the police lines, chasing cop cars, occupying key freeways, blocking the West Gate Bridge and throwing objects at journalists and reporters in the streets. Neither entirely peaceful nor outright anarchy, the protestors have certainly shown that they are not intimidated by shouting riot squads and threats of arrests. On the contrary, they appear emboldened with a sense of legitimacy it gives their movement, given both social media and the press being littered with the overt displays of violence and intimidation Victoria Police have used on peaceful protestors. The unforgettable footage a 70-year old Melbourne woman being bashed and maced went viral, making it clear that being “cooperative” with police measures would be rather counter-productive. Footage of children in skateparks being intimidated has highlighted to the world that vulnerable members of society in Melbourne are unable to stand up for themselves.
While Daniel Andrews, CFMEU leaders, the Mainstream Media and Victorian Police have been quick to resort to labelling the protestors as far-right agitators, the reality is far from the narrative they have deluded themselves into believing. One look at the livestreams on Twitter or Facebook and one can easily observe just how diverse the protestors are, coming from all walks of life, all ethnicities and an array of different occupational backgrounds. If the accusation is that the people out on the streets demonstrating against the vaccination mandates, lockdowns and piss-poor management of the COVID-19 pandemic are indeed ‘Right Wing Nut Jobs’ (as those in charge like to paint them as), they are the most diverse group of right wing nut jobs to walk the Earth.
It is a weak and hollow tactic used by weak and hollow leaders to use such charged-up language. Premier Andrew equates an entire population of Victorians as being ‘nut jobs’ simply because they are standing up for their basic rights as workers and human beings. When times get desperate and every other narrative fails, it’s all people like Daniel Andrews, John Setka or the media class have left to try and appeal, once again, to people’s engrained fears to tarnish their political enemies. If they’re so quick to slander their opposition as “right wing nut jobs ” or as “unAustralian scums of the Earth”, why should anyone hesitate to call them out as nothing but autocratic communists? Would that be any less fair, as they rely on the jackboots of Victoria Police, turning neighbours on each other and Stasi tactics to intimidate their constituents into compliance?
Daniel Andrews, Commissioner Shane Patton and other Victorian Government leaders can condemn displays of violence as disgusting from the safety behind police lines and the news cameras, while begging for olive branches, ‘unity’ and accusing the protestors as opportunists “looking for a fight” all they like. Yet it remains entirely hypocritical of them to do so, as they have the monopoly on means of violence and have demonstrated this time and time again through their eagerness to bring out riot squads, rubber bullets and tear gas to anyone that challenges their authority. They are the ones seeking violent engagement and stroking hostilities, not the other way round. If police have a right to “feel safe on the job” as the Minister for Police Lisa Neville was quoted saying Wednesday morning, why are the same rights not afforded to innocent people exercising their right to free speech? Hypocrisy thy name is Labor.
“Every Day!” has been the chant that has ricocheted across Melbourne and Victoria and, as the world watches, the pressure is mounting for there to be serious change. Whether the Premier is able to survive the next few months politically is dependent on how loyal his party is to him and feeding his ego. The Liberal opposition, specifically Guy Matthews and Tim Smith, are too busy twiddling their thumbs to take any firm position for or against the demonstrators; in trying to please everyone, they leave a void to be filled. While it would be best for the LNP to take advantage of this momentum and help direct the energy towards the ballot box rather than the streets, it is unlikely they’ll do so due to their aforementioned lack of spine. Perhaps Liberal Democrats such as David Limbrick or Tim Quilty will be the ones to fill that void, but as the protestors have avowed that these displays and demonstrations will continue until serious changes occur and freedom is restored to Victoria, it is more likely that people on the ground organizing these events will take on that level of legitimacy that the actual Victorian government is losing. What that means for the future well-being of Victoria is up to anyone’s guess, it’s still early days after all. But a complete collapse of the Victorian government isn’t out of the question, and the silence and lack of any clear leadership from Scott Morrison or from the Federal Government at this time has indicated that they’re still trying to make sense of the situation on the ground, while also not wanting to let similar situations occur nationwide.
Whatever people’s reasoning for being out on the streets, whether it’s to protest the lockdowns, the vaccination mandates, or to demonstrate against the encroaching totalitarianism of Australian politics, one cannot deny that the aggrievance people feel is legitimate. For almost a year people have been isolated, crippled with constant fear from the mainstream media and turned against each other because of the effects of this virus. Instead of using it as an opportunity to bring people together, self-serving politicians, media elites and opportunists from the extremes of both sides have used it to divide Australian society and identity. One thing is for certain, those who will continue to demonstrate and protest on the streets have an impetus that isn’t going to fade any time in the near future – and the world is watching for what comes next.