More than 100 people clashed with Victoria Police on the steps of state Parliament on Sunday afternoon, with ten demonstrators arrested and an officer hospitalised.
Protesters carried signs branded with conspiracy theories concerning 5G communications, the coronavirus tracing app and vaccinations.
Among the cast of colourful characters arrested at the weekend were Craig Cole, best known as ‘The Pitbull’ from Warzone Wrestling; and Fanos Panayides, a one-time contestant on the Channel Nine show, Family Food Fight.
Both spoke at the rally prior to their arrests, with Cole suffering a cut to his forehead during the fracas with police, and Panayides hauled away by officers.
Meanwhile, the bishop of an independent Christian church has been identified as one of the principal organisers of a similar protest in Sydney where a cosmetic surgery nurse was famously arrested.
Pro-wrestler Craig ‘The Pitbull’ Cole was detained by police after suffering a cut to his forehead during a standoff in Melbourne on Sunday
Cole has performed as ‘The Pitbull’ in Warzone Wrestling, an Australian WWE-style performance
Cole picks up a ladder during a performance in Melbourne, above
Reality star: Fanos Panayides – best known as a contestant in Nine’s short-lived Family Food Fight program – was detained by police
Cooking clan: Panayides (second from left) is seen during the first season of the Nine Network’s cooking program in 2017 with his father George and older siblings Soulla and Con
The protest was coordinated by a loose collection of Facebook pages, including Mr Cole’s ‘No Consent’ group, and a separate page dedicated to disseminating 5G conspiracy theories.
The violent demonstration in Melbourne came despite Victorian state Premier Daniel Andrews already signalling he would loosen lockdown restrictions on Monday.
Cole gave a fiery speech on the steps of Parliament describing the Premier as ‘evil’ while Panayides told the crowd lockdown laws ‘don’t make sense’.
In an online video, martial artist Cole thanked police for the ‘fantastic chiropractic workout they gave me. My neck and back hasn’t felt this good in years.’
Panayides – part of a ‘hot-headed’ Greek family that placed third on the low-rating 2017 cooking show – was likewise released following his arrest.
Victoria Police confirmed three people were charged assaulting officers and the agency has vowed fine anyone who violated social distancing rules at the protest.
‘At the protest on Spring Street today, police arrested 10 people, including two organisers of the event. OC spray was deployed during an arrest of one individual,’ a spokesperson said.
‘The majority of those arrested were for failing to comply with the Chief Health Officer’s directions.
‘Police are continuing to investigate the events of today in order to identify other people who were in attendance.
‘Once individuals are identified, we will be issuing them with fines and will consider any other enforcement options.’
Protest organiser Craig Cole is led away by police on Sunday, a cut visible on his forehead
A man dressed all in black is dragged away from the scene in Melbourne’s CBD on Sunday. It’s understood he was one of ten people to be arrested at the protest
One of the protest organisers, Fanos Panayides (left), speaks at the demonstration. Businesswoman Letisha Malakooti (right) livestreamed the protset
In his video statement, Cole claimed: ‘This was not an anti-vaxxer protest, this was not a lockdown protest, this was not a 5G protest.
VICTORIA FINALLY EASES LOCKDOWN RESTRICTIONS
Victorian Premier Daniels Andrews on Monday announced his government will relax lockdown restrictions to allow recreational activities and home visits.
From 11.59pm on Tuesday, Victorians can invite five people into their homes and will be allowed to gather in groups of ten outside for socialising and recreation.
This means activities such as golf, hiking, fishing, walking, sunbathing and kicking a football around are now allowed with social distancing.
Mr Andrews said schools in the state will be allowed to resume ‘soon’ – but a timeframe is still being decided.
‘This was a protest against overall government corruption which has gone on for too long.’
Despite his claims, several protesters carried signs demonstrating against vaccination, 5G and lockdown restrictions.
One sign even chanted for the arrest of pro-immunisation philanthropist Bill Gates. The Microsoft founder has come under attack by trolls for his Foundation’s long-running efforts to eradicate polio and other infectious diseases.
Other protesters held signs that read ‘fight for your freedom and rights’, ‘don’t lock down the people, lock up the government’ and about 5G communications.
Among the protesters in Melbourne was businesswoman Letisha Malakooti, who live streamed the event on her Facebook.
In recent weeks Ms Malakooti, an e-commerce specialist, has spruiked conspiracy theories including that COVID-19 was a ‘strategically organised lie’ and that 5G towers pose an ‘extreme’ threat.
She has also encouraged her followers to become anti-vaxxers. Vaccinations have been critical in wiping out once endemic illnesses such as polio and smallpox from the face of modern-day Australia.
Ms Malakooti instructs followers on how best to further spread these conspiracies so as to appear ‘credible’.
‘Make it as factual as possible, use proper grammar (and) don’t swear in your videos, so that we can increase credibility,’ she instructed her followers recently.
The protest led the Australian Government’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy to describe 5G theories as ‘nonsense’.
More than a hundred protesters clashed with police outside Victoria’s State Parliament on Spring St, Melbourne on Sunday
‘There is absolutely no evidence about 5G doing anything in the coronavirus space’, he said on Sunday.
‘I have unfortunately received a lot of communication from these conspiracy theorists myself. It is complete nonsense.
‘5G has got nothing at all to do with coronavirus.’
‘Similarly, I understand people have the right to protest, but they should not be breaching those social distancing rules and if they are, they should be held to account.’
A similar protest broke out at NSW Parliament House at the weekend, culminating in cosmetic surgery nurse Renee Altakrity, 36, and fellow protester Victor Tey being arrested by police.
Ms Altakrity’s four-year-old son was snatched from her arms during an incident with police – with video going viral on social media.
Mr Tey promoted the anti-lockdown protest on a Facebook page he created in the early stages of the pandemic.
He has spent every Saturday afternoon ‘exercising’ along Macquarie St, Sydney, while holding up a sign protesting the government’s lockdown rules.
Victor Tey is the self-described bishop of a small church in Sydney’s south west and was an organiser of the protest outside NSW Parliament House at the weekend
A bishop for a church with up to 60 parishioners in the city’s west, Mr Tey believes the restrictions have been ‘extreme’ and based on ‘unreliable data’.
Through his small church at Liverpool he campaigned against abortion and same-sex marriage, and attended speeches by sacked Wallabies star ISrael Folau.
Mr Tey also believes those who sin go to hell and keeps a tally of parishioners he has ‘saved’ from doing so.
His protest was joined by a handful of supporters on Saturday, but the day ended with him and Ms Altakrity being arrested by NSW Police.
The next day, Ms Alakrity told Daily Mail Australia she believed Prime Minister Scott Morrison had taken a ‘Gestapo’ approach to running Australia.
Despite admitting she is ‘not a scientist or doctor’, Mrs Altakrity said she believed a more targeted quarantine would have been a better option.
‘I would’ve talked about possibly quarantining the sick, not the healthy,’ she said.
‘There is no reason healthy people shouldn’t be allowed to go about their lives. That’s all I’ve got to say about it.
Mrs Altakrity (pictured) was pulled away from her screaming son by police officers during an ‘Exercise My Rights’ protest outside New South Wales parliament house on Saturday
Police attempted to arrest the woman, while her son screamed and cried. ‘Mummy is not going,’ he said
The dangers of not being vaccinated
Immunisation is an effective way of protecting people from harmful, contagious diseases.
Before vaccination campaigns in the 1960s and 70s, diseases like tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough killed thousands of children.
Immunisation also protects the whole community, preventing the spread of the disease – known as ‘herd immunity’.
Vaccination can cause a disease to die out altogether – as was the case when smallpox was eradicated in 1980 after a vaccination campaign led by the World Health Organisation.
Vaccination rates are at over 93 per cent for five-year-olds in Australia.
Source: Australian Department of Health
‘I don’t think its been handled with common sense.
‘The point for me exercising our rights is to stick up for ourselves and have freedom of speech,’ Mrs Altakrity said.
‘My son wanted to come with me. He said: ‘Mum can I come? I’d love to put a sign up about the fact that I want to go back to the skate parks and not feel scared’.
Mrs Altakrity admitted she was against vaccinations, but said that was not the main reason she was protesting.
Her alarming confrontation with police left viewers divided, with many slamming the mother for bringing her child along with her.
‘Foolish, selfish attention seeking woman. A mother should protect their child far far away from aggravating situations like that during a global pandemic,’ one wrote.
‘She should not expose a vulnerable child to such unnecessary trauma. Her poor innocent boy,’ another wrote.
A NSW Police spokesperson said officers spoke to ‘unauthorised protesters’ about 3.50pm on Saturday.
‘Officers moved the group on after explaining they were not authorised to protest and were also not complying with social distancing regulations,’ the spokesperson said.
‘One woman refused to give officers her details and would not comply with their direction to move on.
‘She was placed under arrest; however, resisted and struggled with officers.
‘The woman was taken to Surry Hills Police Station.’
NSW Police confirmed late on Saturday night that she had been issued with a public infringement notice (PIN) and a subsequent $1000 fine