Dozens charged after vegan protest shuts down CBD intersection

Published by the Herald Sun on April 8, 2019.

Dozens of vegan protesters are facing up to five years behind bars after being charged with obstructing emergency workers.

Yesterday’s peak-hour rally closed down one of the city’s busiest intersections for more than three hours, and obstructing an emergency worker carries a maximum five year jail-term.

Forty people have been charged with a total of 122 offences, including assaulting police.

Three teenagers, two 17-year-olds and a 15-year-old, are among those charged.

It comes after the activists blocked the Flinders and Swanston intersection yesterday morning — including by chaining themselves to slogan-covered vans parked in the middle of the road — before being forcibly removed by police.

Of those arrested, 38 are charged with obstructing an emergency worker, obstructing the road and pedestrian obstruct path of driver.

One protester has also been charged with possessing a drug of dependence.

Another person is charged with four offences including assaulting police at the Melbourne Aquarium, where protesters were yesterday filmed chaining themselves together at the main entrance to the tourist attraction.

All adults charged have been bailed to appear at Melbourne Magistrates Court on June 5, and the teenagers bailed to appear at a children’s court on June 6.

Obstructing an emergency worker carries a maximum five year jail-term.

The charges come after it was revealed taxpayers would foot the hefty bill for the protest.

Police sources said the rally would have cost tens of thousands of dollars in ­resources.

It started around 7am, when activists armed with signs and banners reading “vegan rising” and “this is a peaceful protest” blocked the road, with some chaining themselves to three slogan-covered vehicles.

“The main message is the dire straights the animals are in, the planet and humanity,” protester Sally said.

“We’d like a vegan world,” the woman, who did not want her last name published, added.

It took three hours to clear the scene as police removed each protester and used tools to cut through the heavy chains.

Hundreds of trams were unable to pass through the intersection, traffic and ambulances were diverted and commuters affected by this month’s rail construction blitz were further delayed until trams resumed around 10.15am.

One commuter, Jerrie Bise, said the protest meant she was 45 minutes late to work.

“I think people are entitled to their views but they shouldn’t affect other people’s lives,” she said.

“Because of them St Kilda Rd has been blocked all the way.”

The hardcore vegan activists later went on to target the nearby Melbourne Aquarium, chaining themselves together using PVC pipe at the main entrance.

Car rental agency Thrifty Australia “condemned in the strongest possible terms” the activists’ use of the company’s vans.

“It is alleged that the vans have been chained, defaced and the tyres slashed,” Thrifty said in a statement.

“Obviously, the protesters are in clear breach of their terms and conditions and Thrifty will take all steps to recoup the costs and enforce our terms and conditions.”

FORCE POWERLESS TO BILL PROTESTERS

Senior law enforcement sources said the cost of officers having to police the protest would have run into tens of thousands of dollars.

But the force would not comment on how much the protest cost and said it had little power to bill protesters because it was not a commercial event.

Organisers of events, such as talks by right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, have previously been billed as much as $50,000.

General duties and traffic police were diverted to the scene to ensure the safety of protesters and members of the public as the protest unfolded.

The officers were pulled away from patrolling and investigating crimes in the city for a number of hours as they managed the protests.

Police put up roadblocks while officers from the Victoria Police Public Order Response Team were called in.

Superintendent David Clayton was disappointed by the protesters’ failure to tell police about their planned CBD protest beforehand.

“The lack of prior engagement is really disappointing. It places the community at risk and impacts on the safety of the CBD,” he told reporters.

“There would have been many people who could not access vital services across the CBD because of this protest activity.

“My personal view is I think it’s harmed their cause, but that is a matter for the community to determine.”

Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said: “We know that these types of demonstrations not only waste hundreds of hours of police time and divert them from other critical tasks, they also significantly disrupt the general business of ordinary Victorians.

“Disrupting Melbourne’s busiest intersection not only impedes ordinary Victorians, it limits access to emergency services such as fire, ambulance and police.”