The scenes on the TV were the sort of thing you expect from Paris, where rioters in fluoro vests clashed with police. It certainly isn’t the sort of behaviour I would associate with Melbourne, Australia. It started when construction workers turned on their own union, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), at their headquarters in the Melbourne CBD, all about vaccination for construction workers. Later, the ranks of the unionists were swelled with a delighted rent-a-crowd, and the anti-vax fraternity, some dressed in shiny new fluoro vests. The violence spread to the virtually empty city streets, and on to the main arteries into the city, and over a couple of days the response escalated from a bunch of coppers trying to keep the peace to police in full protective riot gear, armed with shields and batons. By that time, the protesters had moved on to Melbourne’s war memorial, a confronting act seen by many as desecration.
Why did this happen?
Dan Andrews, Victoria’s Premier, declared a sudden two-week lockdown and mandatory vaccination for construction workers. He did this because “Construction sites have been the source of more than 330 Covid-19 cases in the current Melbourne outbreak of the Delta strain.” [The Guardian].
But that’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Basically, everyone is tired of lockdowns. More than tired. The poohbahs in the state governments have created an increasingly divided society. The pandemic isn’t all that hard if you can work from home without losing your income, which applies to most public servants. They even got a pay rise (!) But month after month of trying to prop up a business which can’t have customers, home-schooling your kids, being stuck in a two-bedroom flat, being unable to plan your travel, getting stranded somewhere unable to get home etc etc takes a toll. Especially when the rules can so easily be bent or broken for celebrities.
There have been covid protests in Sydney, our biggest city, too. But nothing to rival what happened in Melbourne this week. Maybe that’s because Sydney has not had to endure months and months of strict lockdowns. Even Dan has finally recognized that covid-19 is now endemic. We have to learn to live with it.
Some things never change, though. Melbourne is having a public holiday because the AFL grand final will be played tomorrow. Bear in mind that the city is in lockdown and the grand final will be played in Perth. I guess this is a gesture to getting back to normal.
(*) French Queen Marie-Antoinette is claimed to have said, “Let them eat cake” when she was told the French peasants had no bread and were starving. There’s no proof she ever did, as explained in Brittanica. As the article says, “Essentially, stories of rulers or aristocrats oblivious to their privileges are popular and widespread legends.” But they’re actually pretty accurate. It’s easy enough to see some of the faceless bureaucrats saying something like this in the state capitals. Perhaps those people should also remember that Queen Marie-Antoinette and her husband, King Louis XVI, lost their heads on the guillotine not long after she was supposed to have made that statement.