Anti-lockdown protests in a quiet, Melbourne suburb saw a group of 30 people march along the streets before police attempted to stop the gathering. Who are some of the protestors and what do they want?
Anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne’s northern suburbs of Broadmeadows and Roxburgh Park on Sunday saw Victoria police arrive en masse to attempt to separate, arrest and stop a gathering that broke Victoria’s stage four lockdown rules.
The protests were made up of 30 young people and were called “the resistance” by several media outlets. Protestors lined the streets wearing Anonymous masks chanting about their discontent over Victoria’s lockdown. Three protesters were arrested.
Members of the group who marched on Sunday afternoon claim they were socially distant and planned a peaceful march to showcase what they have called their “freedoms and liberties”.
Some associated with the group say they believe in some of the coronavirus conspiracy theories that have emerged since the pandemic began.
While a lot of attention has landed on the recent arrest of a pregnant woman over lockdown protests in Ballarat, this suburban zone in Melbourne’s north is home to a large multicultural community with 59.9 per cent of residents speaking a language other than English.
Very little coverage has been given to the motivating factors amongst diverse communities.
We wanted to understand a little more about what’s driving people to join these protests, and spoke to several Broadmeadows locals to get the lowdown.
What's driving the will to join the protests?
Ahmad was among the protesters, he says it was his first-ever protest. He is in his mid-20s, and grew up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Ahmad lives a fairly normal life working to provide for his young family. But since the stage four lockdown he's seen his business close and mortgage payments and bills mount.
"I had to close my doors, I can't do anything about that," Ahmad told The Feed.
"I stopped making money. That's why we're standing up for our rights and want us to get back to normal."
The option of the government's coronavirus welfare package isn't something he's keen on, he says, he doesn't want to jump on Centrelink.
"The stigma behind people that live in the north is: they're all unemployed, they're drug dealers or they're they just dole bludgers," he said.
"And I don't want that stigma and I don't want to be in that position."
Prior to the pandemic, Broadmeadows had one of the highest unemployment and youth unemployment rates.
More recently, The Centre for Full Employment released a list of suburbs at risk for unemployment due to the coronavirus. Broadmeadows registered as high risk - the most worrying category.
Ahmad says he saw elements of the stigma the outer-northern suburbs are tarred with in the media coverage -- it frustrated him. He highlighted that they were described as “people in tracksuits”, it’s a descriptor he feels is loaded.
“Why is that something that they needed to emphasise,” he said.
“They're trying to build a bad image of people in northern suburbs.
“They're unemployed. They're in tracksuit pants. They're a gang. So they're affiliated with drugs and gangs.”
Ahmad doesn’t believe COVID-19 is any different to having the flu or cold. He believes, cigarettes and junk food are more harmful than the virus. This view is rejected by public health experts.
The quest for a vaccine isn’t something Ahmad is interested in, he says, he’d refuse if any vaccine was made mandatory by the government.
Murat, like Ahmad, has lived in the area for almost his whole life. He also lost his business in recent months, it’s a feeling he says left him “powerless”. He was at the protests but says he watched on the sidelines as the rest of his friends marched along the streets.
“I've lost my business, it kind of collapsed. So it's a really frustrating time,” Murat told The Feed.
“It just makes you feel powerless. Like it's you can't do anything.”
The loss of income and work in already trying economic times has left him questioning the lockdown in Victoria.
“We're locked up after 8pm, and we're only given an hour a day to be outside. We're not prisoners. We're not animals,” he said.
Ahmad believes the rapid job loss in Broadmeadows since the pandemic, a suburb already dealing with a poor unemployment rate, has contributed “100 per cent” to the protests over the weekend.
However, he says there are other issues people have been struggling with during lockdown. Ahmad says he’s experiencing anxiety and panic attacks for the first time in his life but it’s hard to find time to seek help from a professional. The earliest appointment he could find to see a psychologist at his local clinic is on September 16.
“I know so many people around me that started having anxiety attacks and panic attacks,” he said.
‘It’s kind of a bit of a rabbit hole’
Murat believes what pushed him, and some of his friends at the protests, to distrust government is down to their personal histories.
“Most of us come from countries with corruption,” he said.
“When people who have come from corruption, see the seeds of corruption, they start to uproar because it's something that's familiar with.”
Murat, like Ahmad, doesn’t believe COVID-19 has the mortality rate to justify a lockdown. He is also skeptical on whether the virus even exists. Again, this is a view that's been widely dismissed by experts.
Murat is a second generation Turkish-Australian, he watched as the home country of his Iraqi-Australian friends was destroyed.
That’s where he traces his interest in conspiracy theories to. He was in primary school in the early 2000s when the invasion into Iraq took place, and it wasn’t until he left high school that the war ended.
“America's stride into Iraq to destabilise the Middle East. That's what got me into this rabbit hole,” he said.
“Maybe two decades [searching] for weapons of mass destruction and then they come out with nothing.
“It's all just for power and money, and to put people in charge of those countries that they deem fit, that are going to play with their wants and needs.”
The scepticism around the wars in the Middle East has now moved over to theories around a child sex-trafficking cabal among the global elites, and a greater interest in QAnon’s chief talking points.
He’s noticed some of his posts and groups he’s a member in are having trouble posting about QAnon.
“If you're talking about pedophilia and global sex trafficking, with the elites of the world,” he said, “all of this kind of thing is being taken down off of social media.”
Despite consuming a lot of the conspiracies aligned to QAnon, Murat believes it’s not related to what he is posting about.
“I think that's more related to an American group but I've heard and read about it,” he said.
Dr Kaz Ross, a lecturer at the University of Tasmania, believes QAnon’s appeal stretches to Melbourne’s ethnic communities, saying the conspiracy movement is all-encompassing with no barrier to entry.
The “rabbit hole”, a term used by QAnon followers, is something Murat is familiar with, he admits “when it comes to conspiracy theories it's kind of a bit of a rabbit hole.”
He’s still in the rabbit hole.
Despite cases in Victoria dropping after restrictions were introduced, Ahmad is adamant that nothing will help his mental health or restore his “freedoms” other than an end to lockdown.
“Getting more mental health support and things like that is like finding the vaccine instead of the cure,” he said.
“We have the cure, the cure to reduce these anxieties and these panic attacks that people are having is to ease restrictions.”
He is certain, even though public health advice says otherwise, that COVID-19 has a minimal death rate.
“We don't need a vaccine, we need the cure. The cure is to allow people their freedom back and to allow life to go back to normal.”
Police have warned against people attending further protests, saying that arrests will be made if similar lockdown demonstrations occur in Victoria.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has been firm on his stance about the matter, saying: "No matter what your postcode or purpose, protest is not safe, it's not smart, it's just not right because it potentially puts at risk everything that people have worked so hard to achieve."
Metropolitan Melbourne residents are subject to Stage 4 restrictions and must comply with a curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am. During the curfew, people in Melbourne can only leave their house for work, and essential health, care or safety reasons.
Between 5am and 8pm, people in Melbourne can leave the home for exercise, to shop for necessary goods and services, for work, for health care, or to care for a sick or elderly relative. All Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at https://sbs.com.au/coronavirus.