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Australia Crushes Lockdown Dissent With Weekend Protest Crackdown

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: August 1, 2021
A general view of the quiet streets in the central business district of Sydney on July 31, 2021. A heavy-handed deployment of Australian law enforcement and military totally wiped out dissent in what was formerly a free country.
A general view of the quiet streets in the central business district of Sydney on July 31, 2021. A heavy-handed deployment of Australian law enforcement and military totally wiped out dissent in what was formerly a free country. (Image: DAVID GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)

Australia’s big media celebrated a victory for the state of New South Wales as a planned July 31 protest against the sixth week of increasingly draconian COVID-19 lockdowns evaporated into thin air after authorities used several different methods to quash dissent. 

The previous weekend saw thousands of Australians take to the streets to protest an acceleration of erosion of freedom alongside like-minded citizens in France, Italy, and the United Kingdom who likewise opposed the installation of formal vaccine passport schemes in their respective countries.

New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian used a public relations rhetoric similar to that of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during the historic 2019 anti-Chinese Communist Party movement to condemn dissenters, saying she is “utterly disgusted” by what she described as “illegal protesters.”

Berejiklian vowed to use all means available to punish participants, while her Deputy Police Commissioner Gary Worboys characterized participation as “violent, filthy, risky behaviour” while encouraging the public to snitch on friends, family, co-workers, or social media contacts who attended the events. 

NSW police asked the federal government for 300 members of the country’s Armed Forces to be deployed to Sydney in advance of the protest, a request which was granted. 

The Premier claimed those who would attend the July 31 scheduled protest would be handing their own families “a death sentence.”

On July 31, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation celebrated what they described as a total shutdown of the planned protest, announcing a 45-year-old man was charged and held without bail for “organizing an unauthorized protest.”

“He was taken to Kogarah Police Station where he was charged with not complying with a noticed direction (COVID-19), not wearing a fitted face covering in a public transport waiting area and contravening a public safety order,” read the article. 

The article, penned by “Crime Reporter” Mark Reddie and two other staff, cheered that police horses were so bored, they had nothing to do and “munched on grass” at the planned protest sites, “By 1:00pm, the ABC had been unable to identify a single demonstrator at several central locations.”

ABC says Sydney law enforcement set up an “exclusion zone” around the protest areas, deploying more than 1,300 officers including police dogs and helicopters in order to stamp out public dissent.

Police set up extensive road blocks, shuttered public transit, forbid taxis and Ubers from collecting fares to the area, and threatened potential attendees with $100,000 fines. The article boasted state police had shaken down 70,000 vehicles at 11 checkpoints.

David Elliot, Minister for Police and Emergency Services, spun the heavy handed approach as if it were the public doing a good deed, “It was always going to involve a small minority, but they’ve shown they care for their family and friends and realised this would have the opposite effect of ending lockdown,” he said. 

Elliot also told police officers who he had commanded to enforce the measures against their fellow citizens should be happy because they had “made Greater Sydney a safer place tonight.”

The article reads like a state-sanctioned propaganda piece, quoting multiple anonymous citizens in the area who celebrated the overwhelming presence of law enforcement. 

“Just feels like they’re [police] putting the pressure on to make sure that everyone’s doing the right thing,” one person was quoted as saying, while the authors themselves said, “Another man said people may think twice about going to protests after seeing police stopping and checking cars.”

On July 29, Yahoo News reported the official opposition Labor Party that is supposed to oppose Berejiklian’s Liberals in the NSW Parliament called for $11,000 fines against citizens who dissent against the government’s COVID-19 mandates on social media.

In a proposed bill, protest organizers would be fined $20,000 and attendees $5,500. Shadow Police Minister Walt Secord said they should “throw the book” at what he characterized as “idiots” who “spread misinformation and lies along with the Delta variant.”

Police Commissioner Mark Fuller used rhetoric referring to “online chatter” about the anticipated protest, calling dissenters “anarchists.”

On July 17, a flock of nearly a half-dozen NSW police were dispatched after midnight to arrest a tradesman who made a dissenting post on Facebook after his jobsite was forced to close due to the latest round of Berejiklian’s lockdowns.

Troy Savage posted, “It’s only a matter of time before some struggling tradie that was already close to the edge, falls off the wagon and puts a bullet in Gladys…Bold move today…She wanna be upping her personal security as well.”

Savage said in an interview with the Australian branch of Canadian independent media outlet Rebel News, “Looking back at it now, it probably wasn’t the best choice of words…At the time I was pretty frustrated.”

Clarifying what he meant by the post, he said, “It was just sort of, like saying that somebody is liable to do something like that out of frustration if things keep going the way they were going.” Savage said he has no criminal record and has never even been in a fight in his life, adding, “At the time I didn’t think anything really of it. I didn’t think that much of it.”

“I’m still in a bit of shock myself as to how far it went. I can’t believe the extent the police went to over such a simple comment on Facebook.”

Savage was charged with “using a carriage service to offend” and for using “a mobile phone accessing Facebook in such a way that reasonable persons would regard that use as being menacing, harassing or offensive” according to a photo of his summons. 

Savage faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison for his post.