Vic police warn protesters to stay home

Protesters moved on to Melbourne's West Gate freeway after a confrontation with riot police.
Protesters moved on to Melbourne's West Gate freeway after a confrontation with riot police.

"Coward" protesters have been warned not to return to Melbourne's CBD for a third day of action as police plan to beef up their response.

As many as 2000 protesters, against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions for the construction industry, shut down parts of the city as well as the West Gate Bridge on Tuesday.

Their actions drew condemnation from Premier Daniel Andrews and unions.

Police used smoke rounds and rubber bullets to control the hostile crowd and had arrested 62 people by 7.30pm on Tuesday. More arrests are expected.

Chief commissioner Shane Patton warned protesters planning on returning to the city on Wednesday to stay at home.

He declared police would use "very different tactics" if required on Wednesday.

"Crowds like this are cowards, cowards who seek to hide their identity ... to do other things that if they were by themselves would not have the courage to do," Mr Patton said at a late night press conference on Tuesday.

"It's disgraceful."

He said extra resources were brought into the city to protect public order and three officers were injured.

The group, mostly men wearing hi-vis gear, started the second day of protests outside the CFMEU headquarters on Tuesday morning before moving on to parliament following warnings from the riot squad.

The crowd circled the city centre for hours before making their way to the West Gate freeway entrance just after 2pm, blocking traffic ahead of peak hour.

They walked to the top of the West Gate Bridge, singing, dancing and lighting a flare before turning around and heading back down the bridge about 3.30pm.

Earlier, the riot squad, supported by police on horseback, warned the group to stay back and fired what is believed to be rubber bullets into the crowd near the Queen Victoria Market.

Empty bottles and cans were thrown back at police.

The crowd then walked towards the police line with hands raised chanting "you serve us".

Many walking with the crowd carried cans and bottles of alcohol, others wore the Australian flag as a cape, and another carried a Trump 2020 flag.

Flares and fireworks have been set off throughout the day and a news crew assaulted.

Protesters are angry at a Victorian government mandate requiring all construction workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and the shutdown of the industry.

Mr Andrews said there was no excuse for the "terrible behaviour" seen in the city over the past two days.

"Acts of violence and disruption won't result in one less case of COVID - in fact it only helps the virus to spread," Mr Andrews said in a statement on Tuesday night.

Industrial Relations Minister Tim Pallas said Victorians were voting with their arms to get out of lockdown, "but we can't do it with the selfish and illegal actions of the people who seem to marinate in Qanon conspiracy theories, wandering around the city, causing mayhem".

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation called on protesters to "stop thinking only of themselves, stop the violence and put the health and welfare of the Victorian community first".

"Nurses, midwives and carers are exhausted and frustrated as they watch protesters fight for their right to overwhelm our health system," secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

On Monday, riot police were called in to disperse a group of about 500 protesters, who threw bottles at Victorian CFMEU construction secretary John Setka and smashed the office's door down.

Mr Setka said the protesters were not all CFMEU members and blamed "neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists" for hijacking the event.

He said the CFMEU was "pro-vax" but had always supported freedom of choice and urged the Victorian government to tackle misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.

The state government has shut down the industry for two weeks in metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire.

All worksites will need to demonstrate compliance with health directions before reopening.

This includes a requirement for workers to show evidence of having had at least one dose of a vaccine before they return to work on October 5.

Australian Associated Press