Victorian construction union building surrounded by protesters after industry shut down overnight- ABC News

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The Australian ABC News reports : Hundreds of anti-vaccination protesters are marching through Melbourne’s CBD, as the construction industry reels from a two-week shutdown imposed overnight.

Riot police are stationed to meet a growing crowd of protesters who first gathered outside the CFMEU headquarters but have now made their way to Parliament House.

Authorities had urged people to avoid the intersection of Elizabeth and Victoria streets as hundreds of masked and unmasked protesters gathered outside the Queen Victoria Market.

It comes as thousands of construction workers in metropolitan Melbourne and some parts of regional Victoria were stood down due to the state government shutdown announced last night.

Some of those gathered held a banner reading “freedom”, while others sang the national anthem and chanted “f***the jab”.

Flares were let off as the crowd began to march east along Victoria Street towards Parliament House.

At its daily press conference, the Victorian government said there were 443 active cases of COVID-19 spread across 186 building sites.

Treasurer Tim Pallas said 50 per cent of inspected construction sites had failed to meet safety requirements, making the shutdown necessary on public health grounds.

“The construction industry must take this opportunity to reset and restart,” he said.

“The industry cannot go back to the way things were being conducted … it was a threat to public health in the most dramatic of terms.”

Government says ‘appalling behavior’ led to shutdown

Monday’s action, which drew around 500 people to the CFMEU headquarters, was organised to oppose a Victorian government mandate requiring all construction workers to have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by September 23.

An angry crowd threw bottles and a crate at Victorian CFMEU construction secretary John Setka when he tried to address the protest.

Last night, Treasurer and Industrial Relations Minister Tim Pallas said the decision to close construction sites in Melbourne, Ballarat, Geelong and the Mitchell and Surf Coast shires for a fortnight was in response to “widespread noncompliance” across the industry.

The government also cited “the appalling behaviour on site and on our streets” in making its decision.

This morning, Mr Setka said he believed only a small number of protesters who were at the union headquarters yesterday taking part in the violent protest were actually union members.

“There was some union members there but in the whole scheme of things, they weren’t the majority there,” he said.

Mr Setka said “professional protesters” who had been involved in violent clashes with police in Richmond over the weekend were part of the crowd outside the CFMEU offices on Monday.

He said the actions of people who were mostly not union members or construction workers had led to the industry shutdown.

“We’ve kept our industry going safely since COVID hit us and we’ve tried to keep our members all working, and to now see, because of a handful of drunken idiots, there’s 300,000-plus workers sitting at home for at least the next two weeks, it’s very disappointing,” he said.

He said it was still important to “respect the rights of people who have a genuine concern”.

“Rather than force people to be vaccinated, we should take them on a journey, have the conversation with them and try to convince them,” Mr Setka said.

He said the idea of employers banning unvaccinated workers from sites was “harsh” and he did not support it.

Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the government should try to introduce rapid testing on building sites instead of shutting the industry down at a cost of billions of dollars a week.

“The situation now needs union leaders and the government to sit down and calm the situation down and more the point to bring rapid testing onto building sites so that we can see which ones are the problem and shut those sites down on a site-specific basis,” he said.

Master Builders Association of Victoria chief executive officer Rebecca Casson described the shutdown as a “bitter blow” but said her organisation still supported it.

She said it was particularly frustrating for those in the industry who had been doing the right thing and the association supported compliance checks.

“It’s absolutely vital that all of those organisations that are not doing the right thing are held to account because they do risk our whole industry being completely shut down,” Ms Casson said.

“Obviously it’s bad enough that we’ve got only a few sections of our industry that are shut down this time with regard to those LGA areas but there are many others that can continue to work in some way, shape or form.”

The organisation supported the mandatory vaccination rule introduced by the government and Ms Casson said she was sure workers could all get at least one dose in the next fortnight before resuming work.

Protesters labelled ‘man-baby Nazis’

Labor MP Bill Shorten hit out at “man-baby Nazis” who he said helped orchestrate the Monday’s protest.

Mr Shorten told Channel Nine “people who call themselves Nazis” had used encrypted message systems to bring in a “rent-a-crowd”.

“Some of those people in the crowd were construction workers, but others I’m reliably informed, were fake tradies, they’d been down to the reject shop and got themselves a $2 hi-vis hoodie so they can pretend they were construction [workers],” he said.

Mr Shorten said while nobody wanted to see the industry shut down, there were a small number of people in construction who were making it “impossible and intolerably to function properly in the short term”.

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