Construction union leaders have distanced themselves from the thousands of anti-vaccine protesters who took to Melbourne’s streets on Tuesday, as Victorian Police say they will use “whatever tactics they need” to contain further demonstrations.
A large group of tradespeople and anti-vaccine agitators gathered in the city centre Tuesday to protest the government shutdown, which was established over fears of COVID-19 transmission through worksites and non-compliance with health and safety guidelines.
The government says the two-week break is essential to limit infections and bolster vaccination rates among the construction workforce, with one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for work site attendance from midnight Thursday.
But protests are expected to continue through Wednesday, with some arrests already made in the city centre.
Speaking to ABC’s “News Breakfast” Wednesday, Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union state secretary John Setka ceded genuine union members were among the fray.
Setka condemned the protesters, saying unions “don’t need” the workers caught up in those aggressive demonstrations.
“I mean, we’re shut now because of these morons,” he said.
“We have 300,000 people sitting at home that should’ve been working otherwise. It’s a bit of a sad moment.”
Michele O’Neil, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said the movement “completely condemns what’s been happening on the streets in Melbourne in the last two days”.
“In fact, it began with an attack on a union office so this was not a protest led by unions,” she told ABC’s “RN Breakfast”.
Taking to Twitter, the Electrical Trades Union labeled the protesters as “fake tradies”.
“Meanwhile, 90,000 people got vaccinated,” the spokesperson said. “You gotta love real Victorians.”
Speaking to 9NEWS Melbourne Tuesday night, Master Builders of Australia CEO Rebecca Casson said the industry rejected the protesters.
“We absolutely condemn the actions of those people today and yesterday,” she said.
“They do not represent our industry, nor do they speak for our workforce… a minority haven’t taken this obligation seriously.”
Police brace for protests as industry prepares for $2 billion hit
The Victorian construction industry contributes an estimated $21.6 billion to the state economy.
The Property Council of Australia estimates the shutdown could cost as much as $1.1 billion each week.
With the lockdowns posing a real financial hit to Victorian tradespeople — and anti-vaccine opportunists continuing to agitate for further demonstrations — law enforcement authorities are braced for more protests.
Speaking in Melbourne Wednesday morning, Premier Daniel Andrews said genuine tradespeople had been joined by “others who were not from the building industry”.
“They’re not there to protest, they’re there for a fight, pretend to be protesting,” Andrews said.
“I have met hundreds and thousands of builders, hundreds and thousands of tradies who build this state, whether it be removing level crossings, building hospitals and schools, all the way through to building homes.
“They’re fine people, hardworking people, and what we saw yesterday is an insult to the vast, vast majority of tradies or people in the building industry, who are not about wrecking, they’re about building.”
Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville said law enforcement officers are prepared to act should further demonstrations kick off.
“If you’re thinking about coming into the city today to cause violence and harm, just know that Victoria Police will deploy whatever tactics they need to in order to ensure that you are held accountable and they have my full support in
in deploying whatever tactics they need to ensure that,” she said.
Police will ensure “that these thugs, these violent thugs, are unable to cause further harm to our city and to our community,” she added.