Australian basketball superstar Andrew Bogut has hit out at police for firing rubber bullets at protesters at Melbourne’s anti-lockdown rally – but Victorian doctors criticised demonstrators for putting more stress on the state’s hospital system.
Among those to slam the protest was emergency physician and former Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Stephen Parnis, who said he was ‘disgusted’ and predicted the demonstration would worsen the city’s Covid crisis.
Bogut, an ex-NBA player and Boomers legend, recorded an 11-minute rant after 4,000 Melburnians flooded the CBD and overwhelmed police used pepper spray and rubber bullets on the crowd when the rally turned violent.
In the video shared to Instagram, the outspoken Olympian questioned the forceful response when Victoria Police had only a day earlier closed a food bank in Yarraville in Melbourne’s inner-west, deciding the long queues of desperate people were a Covid-19 safety risk during the city’s sixth lockdown.
‘Foodbank Victoria yesterday shut down because of worries about it being a hotspot for coronavirus, because there was a line of people wanting free f**king food,’ Bogut said.
‘But Victoria Police today at the protest can have 1,000 officers in the city, pepper spraying, shooting people with rubber bullets … they couldn’t get 100 officers directing traffic to a f**king food bank. Think about that one.’
Australians have had their say on Saturday’s anti-lockdown protests which took place in major cities (pictured, protestors in Melbourne), as protestors have turned violent during a demonstration for ‘freedom’
The basketball star said his independence and financial security gave him the ability to speak freely about issues important to him, and revealed he had recently refused to do a paid advert urging Australians to stay home during the pandemic.
‘I got offered money to put out a public service announcement, to tell you everyday plebs to stay home. Would have been something like this “Hi I’m Andrew Bogut…. it is your duty to stay home”,’ Bogut said.
‘I’ve got money in my bank account, I’m good, I’m fine…. “but you do the right thing for the community, we are all in this together”. I refuse to do that s**t.
He then claimed that other sports stars felt the same way, but were unable to voice their opinions.
‘Athletes that are on contract in our biggest leagues in Australia, AFL, NRL have been told not to make anti-lockdown, anti-government statements on social media, period,’ Bogut said.
‘I’m enemy number one because I am not on anyone’s teet, they can’t shut me up.
‘So for those of you out there who are scratching your head in these tough times thinking where are all these sports stars or influencers … why can’t they go in to bat for me, that’s your reason.’
Bogut called for the Andrews government to ease the city’s harsh lockdown by re-opening playgrounds and construction sites, claiming there is little evidence Covid-19 transmits in outdoor spaces.
His defence of the protesters came in stark contrast to some healthcare workers who said protesters had compromised the safety of everyone in Australia by breaking lockdown rules.
On a day when Victoria recorded 61 new local cases of the virus, former Australian Medical Association Vice-President Dr Stephen Parnis said the demonstrators had put the state’s hospitals at risk.
Pictured, a young child screaming in pain after being capsicum sprayed in Melbourne’s anti-lockdown protests
Police were forced to use pepper spray (pictured) in Melbourne’s CBD as the protest turned violent on Saturday afternoon
Bogut said he had recently turned down money to provide a public service announcement urging Australians to stay home
‘Injuries from today’s protests are being treated in already overworked, stressed emergency departments that struggle with #COVID19Vic outbreaks & staff in isolation,’ the emergency physician wrote on Twitter.
‘We’ll provide care. We always do. But I’m disgusted with the few who assume we’ll always be able to pick up the pieces, while they do everything in their power to make a bad situation worse.
‘Normally, I defend the right to protest & express opinion this way. But these are not normal times. The closest example is wartime. Here, the viral enemy doesn’t wear a uniform. Their fear, anger, frustration & inability to comprehend the situation means Covid-19 will worsen.’
Melbourne based doctor Christian Karcher also tweeted: ‘it is sickening to see this when 2km away there are patients on ventilators fighting for their lives. Absolutely disgusted.’
Another Melburnian said she ‘couldn’t believe what was unfolding’ in Melbourne, before labelling the score of protestors ‘selfish and moronic’.
Protesters gathered on the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke street in the CBD on Saturday afternoon and despite Premier Dan Andrews warning the state was on the verge of a Covid catastrophe.
Several hours of chaos then unfolded, leaving seven officers injured with six hospitalised – including two with suspected broken noses, one with a broken thumb and the others with concussions – and 218 protesters arrested.
Melbourne based Doctor Christian Karcher labelled the anti-lockdown protest on Saturday in Melbourne ‘sickening’
Former Australian Medical Association Vice-President Dr Stephen Parnis said the demonstrators had put the state’s hospitals at risk
A protester (pictured) reacts from pepper spray used by police during an anti-lockdown rally in Melbourne on Saturday
Police issued 236 fines of at least $5,452 for breaching the CHO directions, and have three people in custody for assaulting police.
‘While there were some peaceful protestors in attendance, the majority of those who attended came with violence in mind,’ Victoria Police said in response to claims pepper ball rounds and rubber bullets were fired at demonstrators.
‘The behaviour seen by police was so hostile and aggressive that they were left with no choice but to use all tactics available to them.’
Protesters chanted ‘sack Dan Andrews’ while holding signs reading ‘vaccines kill’ and ‘open schools and parks now’ as they marched through the usually quiet locked down streets waving Eureka flags.
The violent scenes came after Victoria recorded 61 new Covid cases on Saturday – the highest daily figure since the mammoth 112-day lockdown last year.
As protests kicked off in several cities, the most surprising was in Cairns, where a crowd estimated at 700 took over the Cairns Esplanade after being fired up by speeches in a cafe.
They shouted slogans against ‘government control’ and bore anti-vaccine messages and no uniformed officers appeared to be present.
NSW police (pictured) talking to a protestor not wearing a face mask at Broadway in Sydney’s CBD on Saturday afternoon
In Sydney 1,500 officers were deployed on Saturday to stop a growing threat posed by protesters who wanted to march on the city’s worst day of the Covid pandemic – with 825 cases recorded.
The huge coordinated police presence and operation appeared to overwhelm protest efforts as Police arrested 47 people and fined more than 260 in relation to protests across the state.
They issued 137 tickets after stopping around 38,000 cars approaching the city.
Police said a 32-year-old man who allegedly assaulted an officer was arrested and charges are expected to be laid, as the constable was taken to hospital for head and neck injuries.
Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon said police expected to identify more people through CCTV and social media footage.
Taxi and rideshare services were shut out of the city between 9am and 3pm, with companies facing fines of up to half a million dollars if they take passengers to the CBD and surrounds.
Police also encircled the city with a giant exclusion zone featuring checkpoints and road blocks and also prevented trains from stopping in the CBD.
A NSW Police spokeswoman said just before 1pm ‘there have been arrests in and around the city’.
Scuffles broke out around Victoria Park, where one protest was due to begin, at the western edge of the CBD.
Police broke up the group and blocked demonstrators, many of whom were maskless, from walking into the city.
Protestors who did make it into the CBD were moved on by police, with some wrestled to the ground by officers around Town Hall.
A man expected to play a lead role in the Sydney protest, Anthony Khallouf, was jailed for eight months in the days before the action.
In Sydney police (pictured) began making arrests around midday as they stopped protest groups building any momentum
The 29-year-old pleaded guilty to breaching public health orders after he was arrested at Hornsby train station in northern Sydney on Thursday afternoon.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered in Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens for a ‘Freedom Rally’ carrying placards with anti-vax messages with many stating that they believed Covid is a hoax.
The crowd chanted ‘they say wear a mask, we say no’ and ‘wake up Australia’ as they marched to Parliament House.
Several protesters acted aggressively towards local media shouting slogans about virus and vaccine ‘propaganda’.
One man carried a placard comparing Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk with Adolf Hitler.
Others repeated baseless claims that vaccines were not safe for their children as Queensland Police patrolled the protest but did not arrest any of the demonstrators.
Brisbane is not under stay-at home orders and the state currently has much lighter restrictions than residents in Melbourne and Sydney are ordered to observe.
SA Police also said no arrests were made at an anti-lockdown protest in Rundle Park in Adelaide.
The protests followed freedom rallies on July 24 saw thousands of people across Sydney and Melbourne in anti-lockdown, anti-mask demonstrations that also quickly turned violent.
Riot police (pictured) were out in force in Melbourne’s CBD as the anti-lockdown demonstration turned ugly on Saturday