Two counter rallies that became violent in Melbourne’s north are proof the Victorian Government needs to reinstate laws that give police more powers to intervene, the Opposition says.
- People involved in clashes will face full force of law, Government says
- Removal of strict laws gave violent protesters “green light”, Opposition argues
- Police have existing power to crack down, Acting Premier says
Seven people were arrested and police doused some sections of the crowd in capsicum foam as hundreds of people took part in duelling left- and right-wing rallies in Coburg on Saturday.
Police vowed to find those responsible for the violence, which shut down a usually bustling area of the suburb.
Victoria’s shadow attorney-general John Pesutto said the outbreaks of violence proved the Andrews Government needed to reverse its decision to abolish protest laws that allowed police to give move-on directions.
Under the laws, introduced by the former Coalition government, courts were also able to issue exclusion orders to repeat offenders.
Mr Pesutto said the removal of the laws gave protesters the “green light” to act violently.
“We need police to have the powers, and courts to have the powers, to crack down on people who take their protests too far,” he said.
“It’s clear that these protesters on both sides are turning up spoiling for a fight, they almost want this to happen on a regular basis.
“And it’s why we think the Government should indicate today or as soon as possible that it will reconsider the laws it abolished last year.”
Victoria ‘will not tolerate violent behaviour’
But the Victorian Government said the clashes had nothing to do with those changes.
“Police have existing powers to move on and deal with protests. We saw a number of arrests and those people will face the full force of the law,” Acting Premier James Merlino said.
“Those people who wear face masks, who carry weapons, who engage in violent behaviour – that is utterly unacceptable to the Victorian community.
“Peaceful protest should be what it is about, but as soon as people engage in violent behaviour, both the Government and Victoria Police will not tolerate it.”
Mr Merlino added the Government would with police to see if they required any additional powers to deal with those kinds of incidents.
Mr Pesutto denied the laws were draconian, and they would not apply to peaceful protesters.
“We’ve always understood people have the right to protest freely, but they don’t have the right to protest violently,” he said.
“It’s up to Governments above and beyond everyone everyone else to set the policy and put procedures and laws in place which give effect to that very important balance between the rights of protesters and the rights of innocent bystanders.”