State Legalised Violence and the Tradie Protests
Recently Melbourne, the most locked down city in the world, reached its boiling point. Did police cross the line by using force to maintain public order? Leanne Elliott looks at the reported conduct of Victorian police during the recent ‘Tradie’ protests in Melbourne.
Warning, this article contains graphic content which may be disturbing to some readers.
Yes, there are many different perspectives concerning the recent Melbourne protests. Some regard the protests as criminal, some believe they are justified, while others couldn’t care less and just want things to return to normal. Some have labelled them “freedom protests”, others have labelled them as “riots”.
But looking past the diverse, sometimes polarising, perspectives regarding the whether the protests were right or wrong, we come face to face with the fact the protests gave rise to extreme levels of police brutality enacted upon unarmed Australian citizens; a level of police brutality which has not been witnessed in recent Australian history.
Footage of the “Tradie” protests across Melbourne spread across international borders via social media and has provoked the international community, including the UK, Ireland, USA and Poland to protest outside Australian embassies, condemning the actions of Victoria Police and the Australian Government.
Polish MPs went so far as to describe the current climate in Australia as “totalitarian” and highlighted how Australian citizens have been deprived of their “fundamental freedoms and civil liberties.” One MP even suggested the protestors would have been crazy not to protest over their freedoms and rights being stripped away.
The combination of livestream media and social media saw many examples of police brutality during the Melbourne protests being shared across the globe. Some of the more widely shared video footage included an old lady being knocked over by police and being pepper sprayed while on the ground. Footage of police kicking a man in the head as he lay on the ground, while another officer hits him in the back with the butt of his rifle.
One of the most disturbing videos to surface shows a man apparently talking with police at a Melbourne train station. While the man was talking a burly, senior special operations officer walks up behind the civilian and literally picks him up then pile drives him, head first, into the concrete (the status of the victim is currently unknown).
at Flinders St Station
When Shane Patton said they won’t hesitate to use force
I think this was his vision 😬😬😬 pic.twitter.com/zpdLDa5ttL
— Dee (@_Dee_1982) September 22, 2021
Witnesses reported the victim was knocked out, with blood and urine coming from the man’s body as he lay unconscious. Victoria police have since identified and suspended the senior officer involved (with pay) pending further investigation.
Pain compliance weapons were also deployed against the crowds, with police using pepper spray, batons, guns and rubber bullets, even calling in the riot squad with their armoured vehicles, to quash the protests. And if that wasn’t enough, Victorian police sought to shut down airspace over Melbourne citing ‘safety concerns’ and enforced a one hour delay on any aerial coverage from the media.
Yes, there were public health orders in place, however the crowd chose to ignore the restrictions and instead to exercise their right to freedom of expression, movement, and dignity. But did this warrant the level of violence we witnessed, police violence directed towards unarmed citizens? Did it warrant closing down the airspace over Melbourne and the censorship of media coverage from the air?
Independent volunteer group Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) highlights in an August statement that any force used by the police “must be reasonable, necessary, and proportionate to the threat faced”.
“The emergency pandemic powers do not provide the police any greater powers to disperse crowds with ‘non-lethal options’. Police are given powers to fine, to declare an area an ’emergency area’, and to require people to move on, but emergency powers do not provide for greater use of force.” – MALS
MALS also emphasises police involved in enforcing the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic) (PHWA) are “lawfully obliged to ensure that they exercise their powers in a transparent, systematic, and appropriate manner, so far as is practicable.”
Many of the protestors in Melbourne have been locked down for almost a year, with Melbourne recently becoming the most locked down city in the world… that’s right, the most locked-down city in the world.
The people of Melbourne are frustrated. Many are fearful of losing their job due to medical mandates, some have already lost their jobs due to businesses closing down for extended periods of time and many families are facing immense pressure. The strain and negative effects of isolation and uncertainty are becoming obvious and the long term impact will not be known for years to come.
The behaviour of Victorian Police is not just because of some “bad apples”, as stated before, Victoria Police are no strangers to accusations of violence and brutality. This time, however, it has shaken public trust in the Victorian police to its core and has caused untold damage to the reputation of Victoria, its police service and all of Australia.