By the time Melbourne’s lockdown ends on October 26, it will have spent 267 days in lockdown since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
That isn’t just a long time by global standards. It’s the longest amount of time any city has spent under such stringent restrictions, surpassing even the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires’ 245 days.
The frustration in the city has been building for some time. And it isn’t limited to the extremists committing acts of violence. The actions this week have been inexcusable and undoubtedly have been whipped up by some in the far-right.
But many in Melbourne were in “desperation”, said David Southwick, the Victorian Liberal Party’s Deputy Leader who spoke to Sky News today.
He argued that, while the question of mandatory vaccinations for construction workers appeared to have lit the spark of this week’s anger, the tinder was already there waiting to ignite because of Victoria’s seemingly never-ending Covid nightmare.
Southwick said Victorians were “absolutely desperate to get out of this mess”.
Goalposts keep moving
“We’re devastated at the moment, we’re gutted and we just need a way forward,” he said.
He said the frustration had been compounded because the “goalposts keep moving” for Victorians to exit lockdown once and for all.
“People are doing the right thing and we’re not far off reaching those targets of 70 and 80 per cent, but what we’re seeing is that the goalposts have moved,” said Southwick.
“In NSW, most things are opening up at 70 per cent. We’ve got to wait until 80 per cent at November 5, and even then we still have a whole load of restrictions.
“So Victorians don’t see a real end to lockdowns and an ability to get our lives back.”
He stressed that he didn’t support the protests in Melbourne, but said the growing sense of anger from Victorians was understandable.
Southwick said some of it was pushback against what he called the “politicisation” of the vaccine mandates for industries like construction.
He claimed the Labor government in Victoria had not worked effectively with these industries, blaming a top-down approach, a lack of consultation and tight deadlines that have riled up some workers.
However, he said the biggest driver of anger in Melbourne was the perception that other parts of the country and the world were moving on while Victoria was being left behind.
When Victoria went into lockdown again in July, Premier Daniel Andrews made a clear point of saying Melbourne would not end up like Sydney.
“I am not prepared to avoid a five-day lockdown now only to find ourselves in a five-week or a five-month lockdown,” he declared.
Yet here we are.
The AFL Grand Final, a sacred date on the Victorian calendar, will be taking place in Western Australia for the second year running.
The tension is palpable and evident everywhere you look – and not only in the flying flares and projectiles, the disruption to the Westgate Bridge, or the disgraceful treatment of workers at a vaccination hub.
You can see it in the heavy police presence in the Melbourne CBD, and the isolated but shocking clashes between some members of law enforcement and the protesters. In the abuse copped by a business owner whose uniform was co-opted by a fake tradie.
On Wednesday, video footage showed professionals, who were working from home, cheering from their balconies in Southbank as tradies were arrested on the streets below them.
It was an example of support for law enforcement, but also the division between Melburnians.
“The laptop class interrupt their zoom calls to cheer on oppression of the new underclass from their balconies in Southbank,” Victorian Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick commented on Twitter.
“So much classism on display because the well off finally have social permission to just openly vent their contempt for the underclass,” said Australian human rights activist Drew Pavlou.
The Victorian government, along with union officials such as the CFMEU boss John Setka, have been keen to stress the role of far-right anti-lockdown protesters who’ve hijacked the rallies for their own violent purposes.
“There were certainly some CFMEU members present, but there were certainly a lot of others that joined in. There were these so-called ‘Freedom Rally’ protesters that joined in. A lot of people just used this as a cover to come down and act aggressively,” the deputy police commissioner said this week, for example.
But the anger in Victoria clearly reaches far beyond the realm of the far-right.
Yesterday, Andrews defended his road map out of lockdown and announced an easing of rules for Victorians stranded in NSW, allowing the fully vaccinated among them to come home.
He also had a message for people in Melbourne who were feeling fed up.
“I will just say to people, violence does not work, only vaccination works against this,” the Premier said.
“Go and get vaccinated. There is no alternative.
“The good news is, let’s not have the ugly actions of a small number detracting from the amazing work that the majority of the people are doing, following the rules, making huge sacrifices.
“We are so close, so close to getting to 80 per cent single dose, 70 per cent double dose and then 80 per cent double dose, delivering a road map that delivers the national plan agreed to by all political leaders from all political parties across our nation, getting the place open.
“That is what I am passionate and committed to doing.”
*story by NZ Herald