Vic anti-vax mandate rally draws 10k crowd

Protesters have returned to the streets of Melbourne after the state this week passed pandemic laws.
Protesters have returned to the streets of Melbourne after the state this week passed pandemic laws.

Up to 10,000 people have protested in Melbourne's CBD, in the first mass demonstration since the Victorian government passed pandemic laws.

The crowd marched through Treasury Gardens shouting "sack Dan Andrews" and "freedom", with protesters carrying Eureka and national flags, as well as Donald Trump placards.

They sang The Seekers' I Am Australian before hearing speeches from ex-Liberal MP turned United Australia Party leader Craig Kelly and others.

Mr Kelly said he was unable to hire a rental car after landing at Melbourne airport because he refused to show his COVID-19 vaccine certificate.

"I am no longer in a great city, I am here in a fascist medical state," the NSW-based MP shouted.

The anti-mandate mob moved to the front of Flinders Street Station, bringing traffic to a standstill at the major intersection.

After more than an hour, some protesters headed for the ABC's Southbank studios as police formed a line in front of the building, and asked to speak with the public broadcaster's chair Ita Buttrose, who lives in Sydney.

They then set up outside Government House, the official residence of the state's governor who will sign off on the pandemic bill.

At the peak of the rally, Victoria Police estimated 8000 to 10,000 people were in attendance.

"There was a significant police presence throughout the city and no arrests were made as of 5pm," a spokesman said.

In nearby Carlton, a counter-rally against far-right elements of the so-called 'freedom protests' was also held.

There have been almost weekly demonstrations in Melbourne against vaccination mandates and pandemic laws, with concerns some protesters are members of neo-Nazi organisations or linked to far-right conspiracy groups.

The Andrews government's controversial new legislation, which passed parliament on Thursday, makes the premier and health minister responsible for declaring pandemics and making health orders.

It will replace the existing state of emergency on December 16 and makes Victoria the first state in Australia with pandemic-specific laws.

Health Minister Martin Foley suggested demonstrators are complaining about aspects of the pandemic laws that had already been altered.

"Protests should be peaceful and they should be based on up-to-date information and facts," he told reporters on Saturday.

"What we now have is a set of legislative arrangements that allow a balance between the public health response that keeps us safe and open."

There are currently 39 COVID-19 cases linked to mass protests in Melbourne last month, with three people hospitalised and one in intensive care.

Fourteen of the largely unvaccinated cases went to the rallies while infectious.

Victoria recorded another 1365 infections, all bar two of which were locally acquired, and a further nine virus-related deaths over its latest reporting period.

Also on Saturday, Victoria's Shadow Emergency Services Minister Brad Battin called for the state government to potentially scrap restrictions on unvaccinated people from December 15, in line with NSW.

"I'd be encouraging (Premier) Daniel Andrews to seriously consider that," he said.

Mr Andrews has previously indicated restrictions on unvaccinated people in Victoria could change depending on the progress of booster shots and rollout of jabs to children aged between five and 11.

VICTORIA'S COVID-19 DAILY NUMBERS:

* Deaths: nine, of people aged in their 70s to 100s

* Death toll across the pandemic: 1365

* Active cases: 14,383, up 1470

* Hospital patients: 288, down one

* Seven-day hospitalisation average: 293, up two

* Actively infectious ICU patients: 44, up one

* Cleared ICU patients: 43, down one

* Patients on a ventilator: 20, down two

* Tests processed: 67,545

* Vaccine doses at state hubs: 4094

* 12 and over full vaccination rate: 91.4 per cent.

Australian Associated Press