By John Stapleton

The arrest of 404 people protesting outside Parliament House in Melbourne’s central business district, and the issuing of 395 very punitive fines, has crystallised Australia’s descent into authoritarianism.

It is now a simple statement of fact that Australia’s police are being misused to suspend the democratic right to protest.

While the adversarial footage of police swarming protesters and arresting pregnant women has been extraordinary to watch, there is also known to be significant disquiet.

Staunch activist Rebekah Spelman, who was arrested at the demonstration, is a copy writer and proofreader, one of the many professional people who have taken to the streets.

Her photographs of the demonstration can be seen here.

“If we are still truly in a deadly pandemic as this government would have us believe, then the sanctioned actions of the police at the protest on Cup Day are not only disgraceful, but dangerous.

“As one of the 400+ people arrested on that day, I experienced their tactic of forcing us into tight circles, advancing on all sides until we were packed close.”

Some of the most vivid “in their face” footage of the protests has been done by Avi Yemini of Rebel News Australia, invariably dismissed by The Guardian Australia as “hard right” for his previous stances on Australia’s immigration policies.

In the thick of it all, Rebekah Spelman recalls: “They held us there for hours and stood like robotic sentinels staring blankly ahead, refusing to acknowledge our questions of why we weren’t free to leave.

“With latex-gloved hands, they rubbed sunscreen all over their arms and faces, they passed cups of water into our crowd, expecting one cup to be touched and held by multiple people before being sipped from, and they put those gloved hands on people’s faces, heads and necks as they, in gangs, aggressively arrested those who were not even putting up a fight.

“None of this behaviour seems appropriate toward peaceful crowds during a ‘deadly pandemic’.

“The discrepancy between the way the police responded to this rally and the way they responded (or didn’t) to the huge crowds gathered on the beaches of Melbourne that very same day, is stark.

“To me, the reason for the discrepancy is glaringly obvious: Dan Andrews and his government will have no opposition to their narrative, and will not be bullied into backing down.

“I say to Mr Andrews, neither will we.

It’s become a farce, and the strong-arm actions and tactics of the police are making that clear to us all.

Rebekah Spelman

One of Australia’s most distinguished academics, Professor Ramesh Thakur of the Australian National University, puts it bluntly: “Put under 23-hour house arrest, limited to 5km-radius outings for state-approved activities and purposes, mandatory mask requirement, rights to peaceful protest suspended, pervasive police surveillance of social media and public spaces, state control of economic activities, suspension of parliament to rule by executive diktat, instant heavy fines on police officers’ whims, martial law masquerading as medical law: how comforting…”

In a recent piece Human rights discarded at the Gates of Hell: Covid has emboldened totalitarian authorities for The Spectator Professor Thakur wrote: “Lockdowns don’t destroy the virus. No, they destroy the three ‘ls’ of lives, livelihoods and liberties.

Governments have effectively stolen a year of our life. The boundary between liberal democracy and draconian dictatorship proved to be virus-thin.

ramesh thakur

“Preemptive press self-censorship has helped to normalise the rise of the surveillance-cum-security state in the name of keeping us safe from terrorists and now from the virus that is so deadly, hundreds of millions must be tested to know they’ve had it.

“The pandemic has brought about an expansion in state power right into our homes and across public spaces to an extent not seen previously, not even in wartime. A Freedom House report concluded that in eighty countries the pandemic has emboldened governments to engage in abuses of power: ‘silencing their critics, and weakening or shuttering important institutions, often undermining the very systems of accountability needed to protect public health’.”

Now prominent lobby group Liberty Victoria has joined the fray, calling for protest activity to be made lawful in the State.

“Liberty Victoria is very concerned by the recent arrests and issuing of infringement notices for persons engaged in protest activity,” the group declared in a public statement … a prohibition on protest activity is no longer justified or proportionate.

“Directions that purport to prohibit protest activity may well be unlawful. Liberty Victoria calls for the Directions to be amended so that is it clear that responsible, peaceful socially distanced protest activity is lawful. Peaceful protest, whatever the cause, is vital to a functioning democracy.”

A simple scan of the headlines is enough to confirm that anti-lockdown protests are on the rise across the globe: “Germany braces for anti-lockdown protests”, “Anti-lockdown protests erupt in UK, 100 held”, “Liberté! An open letter by 200 French lawyers protesting against lockdown”, “Huge anti-lockdown protest breaks out in Edinburgh”, “Pianist calmly plays on the street amid violent anti-lockdown protests in Barcelona”, “Manchester University students remove ‘lockdown’ fencing during huge protests”, “Italy: the “second wave” brings with it a wave of protests”.

“Toxic lockdown sees huge rise in babies harmed or killed.”

The storm compounds, the toll rises.