How Daniel Andrews’ beleaguered pandemic invoice grew to become gas for Victoria’s anti-government protests | Victorian politics

mCriticism of the Andrews administration’s proposed pandemic laws has been picked up by protesters, including some from the far right to give weight to a longstanding campaign against public health laws, experts say.

On Tuesday, the House of Lords debated the Public Health and Wellbeing Act (Pandemic Management) 2021. Legislation put in place by the Andrews administration would allow the Prime Minister to declare a pandemic and state of emergency indefinitely, empower the Minister of Health to make comprehensive public health orders, and Authorize authorized officers to quarantine individuals.

It is being passed with the support of Crossbench MPs, who announced late Monday that they had negotiated legislative changes that will address some of the concerns voiced by civil rights groups.

Weeks of protests against the proposed law, which escalated Saturday, followed, with thousands of people marching through central Melbourne, holding a gibbet demonstration, protesters posing with slings and chants of “hang Dan Andrews”.

On Monday evening, an inflatable doll by Daniel Andrews was placed on the gallows support in the CBD.

During an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne on Monday, an inflatable doll depicting Daniel Andrews was placed on an assembled gallows. Photo: @ discodan99

Last Thursday evening, a group of protesters also gathered outside the home of Animal Justice MP Andy Meddick, one of the top three crossbenchers, according to a message he posted on social media.

Meddick, who said he and his family had received death threats over the legislation, said he was concerned that hostilities against politicians could escalate to the point that began earlier this year in the UK with the alleged assassination of Conservative MP Sir David Amess was observed.

He said the amended bill “will ensure that Victoria has the most transparent and accountable framework for pandemic management in the country”.

The changes negotiated by the Crossbenchers include giving Parliament an immediate opportunity to review any order, public health orders must explicitly refer to risk, and the maximum financial penalty for the worst public health violations has been cut in half – it is now $ 45,000 for individuals starting at $ 91,000.

In a group statement with fellow Crossbenchers, Reason party leader Fiona Patten, and Greens leader Samatha Ratnam, Meddick defended the decision to pass the law.

“While the official opposition and some prominent shock stars and tabloid commentators knowingly incited dangerously incited and inappropriately angry civil unrest with lies, crossbenchers focused on improving the bill to better protect and support the Victorian community,” they said.

Imperfect calculation as an opportunity for better law

The legislation was criticized by the Law Institute of Victoria, the Victorian Bar Association and the Human Rights Law Center for saying it gives the government unlimited power to declare a pandemic, gives the Minister of Health a very wide range of powers during a pandemic, and lacks control mechanisms and Transparency.

Bar Association President Róisín Annesley QC said Tuesday that the changes negotiated by Crossbenchers “address low-priority issues rather than the most fundamental issues of the bill”.

But despite this criticism, most agree with the need for new legislation.

Human Rights Center legal director Daniel Webb said some comments on the bill were “very misleading”.

“While it is definitely not perfect, this law would vastly improve the current law in Victoria,” Webb told Guardian Australia.

He said threats and insults against Crossbench MPs were “appalling”.

“It would have been easy for these Crossbench MPs to just give another extension under the existing law,” he said. “Instead, they took advice from a range of experts and worked with the government to try to improve the law.”

The legislation also met opposition in advertisements funded by high profile Melbourne businesspeople, led by Kilara Capital executive director Ben Krasnostein.

Krasnostein’s company, Climate Smart Investments Pty Ltd, approved advertisements appearing in Nine and News Corp Australia newspapers urging people to contact the House of Lords’ main crossbenchers office, including Patten, who was asked to do the Postpone voting on the law by the government, or “pass major amendments that keep the Reason Party’s promise and senior lawyers say they are vital”.

Krasnostein told the Australian Financial Review that the ads were funded by a group of people who contested parts of the legislation but were not against the Andrews administration as a whole. Krasnostein was also quoted in the AFR as saying, “We are not anti-Vaxxers, and we agree that we need laws to regulate pandemics, we agree, and it is better to have power in your hands to have ministers instead of unelected bureaucrats, we agree with that too… But we don’t need clauses that, for example, provide for authorized officials to enter homes without an arrest warrant and arrest and the complete lack of judicial supervision. “

Some protesters have taken criticism of the legislation without adopting the nuances and are playing in an increasingly polarized political environment.

Capitalize on political polarization

Dr. Josh Roose, a senior research fellow at Deakin University whose work includes research into extremism, said protesters in Melbourne have benefited from legal and humanitarian criticism of the legislation to keep the anti-government protests alive last year As protests against the lockdown, protests against the vaccination mandate began in July and were briefly fueled by indignant construction workers in September.

“They are certainly trying to capitalize on the bill and possible laws because they can portray it as a seizure of power,” said Roose.

There have also been attempts to involve other activist groups in Melbourne to increase support for the protests. Meriki Onus, a Gunai and Gunditjmara woman and community organizer, was approached as a speaker at the rally on Saturday, as was her co-organizer and Yigar Gunditjmara, Bindal, Yorta Yorta and the Torres Strait islander Tarneen Onus-Williams. Both refused.

The central theme of the protests was freedom from state control – over freedom of movement, vaccination regulations and now also from laws that have been formulated by some legal and political critics in such a way that they allow uncontrolled state interference in people’s lives.

“There is a legitimate fear out there that this will bring in more power” [the government’s] Hands, and the government has done very little to convey to the general public what this bill is about, ”Roose said.

It seems that some right-wing politicians are ready to capitalize on this polarization, said Dr. Imogen Richards, lecturer at Deakin University.

Craig Kelly, recently from the Liberal Party and currently representing Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, spoke at the protest on Saturday and told protesters, “We are chasing after the Labor and Liberal parties because they cannot be trusted” . Victorian Liberal MP Bernie Finn placed an ad in the Herald Sun urging people to join the protest, with slogans such as “RISE UP! MELBOURNE ”and“ Stop the Power Grab! ”.

Finn, who has spoken out against lockdown measures, previously supported the stance of some protesters against the vaccination mandate and wrote on Facebook in September: “There is no justification for violence, but what if a government tries to force medical treatment on me against my will? , they would see a fighting rage. “

“I don’t think it would be wrong to say it in any way [a] a kind of ‘unite the rights’ protest, “said Richards. “And ironically, some of those interested in mobilizing these different groups are the very same political entities that they claim to be opposing.”

The protesters “are to some extent co-opted as part of Clive Palmer’s political campaign,” which, as Palmer has previously made clear that his party will favor the Liberal Party at the federal level, is arguably the case a campaign for the re-election of the current federal government.

At the same time, the presence of Kelly and other sympathetic politicians gives the protests legitimacy. In response to questions from the Guardian Australia, Kelly denied concerns about the rise in violent rhetoric at the protests, saying he had not heard the “Hang Dan Andrews” chant or seen the snares, and that it may have been meant “metaphorically”.

Influence of the extreme right?

The widespread opposition to the proposed pandemic laws has made it a complex task to forge concrete links between the protests in Melbourne and elements of the far right. But as with most of the city’s protests during the pandemic, there were elements of far-right groups among the crowd, as well as an increase in openly violent rhetoric and QAnon-influenced protest signs.

“There are obvious examples of a far-right presence in these protests that are obviously trying to take advantage of this for recruitment purposes,” said Richards.

The anti-fascist group White Rose Society posted material online alleging that a person who worked for the event as part of Craig Kelly’s personal safety was a long-time member of a number of neo-Nazi groups. There is no indication from Guardian Australia that Kelly was aware of the person’s alleged neo-Nazi connections and when asked for comment, Kelly told Guardian Australia that he does not remember his security guard’s name and that he does was not aware of whether he had any political affiliation.

“As far as I know he was qualified, he did a good job, he was efficient and professional and that’s all that matters,” said Kelly.

The organization of material distributed on social media sites in the run-up to Saturday’s demonstration came from established, self-described “libertarian and populist activist” groups such as the Melbourne Freedom Rally, led by serial protester Harrison McLean, whose personal involvement for right-wing extremist groups online has already been reported. McLean has previously denied being involved in the far right.

The protest was also fueled by the anti-lockdown protest group Reignite Democracy, which have been accused of spreading various Covid misinformation throughout the pandemic and which recently announced a collaboration with Kelly and the United Australia Party on what Rebel News called “Similarly” labeled pro-freedom, anti-lockdown, pro-vaccine voting platform ”.

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