Culture

Junk Explained: What Exactly Went Down At The ‘Reclaim Australia’ Protests In Melbourne, And Why?

Similar scenes are expected in Sydney today.

Yesterday, Melbourne’s CBD was in lockdown as Reclaim Australia and anti-racism protestors came to blows outside Parliament House.

The nationalist group — who want Australia to retain our “traditional values”, whatever that means joined the United Patriots Front for a planned anti-Islam rally, which The Age reports involved just over 100 people carrying flags protesting the ‘Islamification’ of Australia, and signs like ‘STOP ISLAMIC TERRORISM’ and ‘RECLAIM DEMOCRACY’.

They were met by about 1400 anti-racism protestors who mobilised on social media with the #NoTimeForRacism hashtag.

It got heated very quickly.

Since last night, Twitter has been flooded with images from the violent clashes which according to police were instigated by both sides. Reclaim Australia have planned similar rallies in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania today. As we write this, protestors are mobilising at Martin Place in Sydney, and three people have already been arrested. SBS have reported that there were only 50 Reclaim Australia protestors there earlier in the day, but some on Twitter are saying that it’s closer to 300.

All we know for sure is that Reclaim Australia’s Sydney chapter like to dress up as Greek soldiers, for some reason.

What Is Reclaim Australia, Again?

Briefly, Reclaim Australia are a group who, according to their Facebook, “stand together to stop halal tax, sharia law & islamisation”.  They also want to make singing the national anthem compulsory for all Australian schools and to revoke citizenship of anyone who fails to “pledge their allegiance”. As we found out at similar rallies in April, there seem to be a lot of them on Facebook, but not a lot of them when it comes to the actual turn-out.

Specifically this weekend’s protests are “a public response to the shock of recent atrocities of Islam’s radicals both inside and outside of Australia”. Although the backlash against the fringe group has been massive, they do have vocal supporters, most controversially Coalition MP George Christensen who plans on speaking at the Reclaim Australia rally in Queensland today. Labor MPs including opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles, have called out Tony Abbott’s hypocrisy in allowing Christensen to attend this controversial shindig, but banning his other party members from attending Q&A. In a piece for The Guardian, Christensen himself said that, “Hell will freeze over before I give in to such intimidation”.

Interestingly Reclaim Australia has never been charged for hate crimes, which their detractors argue is a massive oversight by law enforcement. Reclaim Australia argue the opposite: they don’t hate anyone, they say — they just love Australia and want to protect it.

 So, what happened in Melbourne yesterday?

Well, it depends on who you’re asking.

Victorian Police have told every major news outlet this morning that violence was instigated by both the Reclaim Australia and anti-racism protestors, with four people being arrested. About 400 police were dispatched in the area of the protests and according to the footage and to some anti-racism protestors on social media, the police sure used their capsicum spray liberally.

The Melbourne Street Medic Collective say that the police “indiscriminately fired pepper spray into the crowd, including onto an injured man who was struggling to breathe, was losing consciousness, and was awaiting an ambulance. They also sprayed the medics treating him”. Police allegedly ignored the crowd advising that it was a first aid area, and sprayed the medics anyway — one of which was pregnant.

Apparently the spraying started when protestors broke police lines and started throwing bottles at each other. Police assistant commissioner Stephen Leane told The Australian, “I think the message of the day from either side has been lost and I think they need to sit back and think about that.”

But from the point of view of many anti-racism protestors, police showed an excessive use of force towards them, and seemed to favour the Reclaim Australia protestors. One photo in particular, showing a policeman grasping hands with a Reclaim Australia protestor, was pretty damning.

It all seems pretty depressing, right? Maybe we’ll let the Herald Sun have the last word on this one.

Feature image taken by Luis Ascui for Getty.