melbourne protest lockdown forced vaccine police
© AFP / William WEST
Police tackle protesters in Melbourne during an anti-lockdown rally.
The world is watching in horror as Covid chaos unfolds on the streets Down Under, with heavy-handed elite police piling in on lockdown protestors using an arsenal of weapons that would be the envy of any authoritarian regime.

The online images are all too familiar: helmeted and masked police in body armour with batons held high, clubbing protestors lying on the ground as incapacitating pepper smoke burns their eyes and chokes their breath.

Meanwhile, mobs of rowdy protestors take over city streets, blocking traffic and disrupting the working week as they throw projectiles at 'whoop-whooping' police cars. Mayhem reigns.

But where is it? Burma? Hong Kong? Venezuela? Nope, it's my home town of Melbourne, Australia.

If the scenes from three increasingly combative confrontations from the last four days were broadcast from any of the aforementioned nations, Aussie PM Scott Morrison and his ministers would be on their feet so quickly they'd have scorch marks on the seat of their trousers, as they denounced the over-the-top brutality on display against citizens exercising their democratic right to protest.

There would be ministerial statements condemning the police action in the strongest terms, ambassadors would be summoned to explain their nations' unacceptable actions and the United Nations would face pressure to sanction this aberrant behaviour and start freezing assets.

Instead: nothing. Hypocrisy is alive and well Down Under, which is starting to resemble a bio-tech police state more than the Lucky Country.
protest australia vaccine
An early protest against mandated vaccination in Melbourne, February 20, 2021
While the Australian government might be keeping its counsel over the scenes of pensioners being pepper-sprayed by police, the silence has been filled by social media and well-intentioned if unwelcome concerns from across the Pacific, with commentators from America denouncing what they have seen online and calling for US sanctions against the Aussies.

This ain't gonna happen, because number one US President Joe Biden is a Democrat and does not take orders from the GOP, and number two, the ink is not even dry on Morrison's signature on the new AUKUS security pact. It, of course, encourages Australia, the US and UK to work together, not interfere in domestic policing issues. But hey, knock yerself out.

However, in his own backyard, Morrison stayed silent as Victorian State Premier Dan Andrews unleashed the Public Order Response Team upon a lockdown-weary population that really has had quite enough.

This crack unit of 300 officers from Victoria Police has an arsenal of weapons at its disposal in quelling rowdy protestors. Alongside the now go-to weapon of choice under such circumstances, pepper balls fired from semi-automatic rifles, they have dye markers that can be shot at protestors so they can be identified and arrested later. A bit like tell-tale paintballing.

If that's not enough, they can also choose from a virtual smorgasbord of non-lethal arms, including a 40-millimetre launcher that fires hard, squash ball-like projectiles, stinger grenades that can be rolled into a crowd and explode with light and smoke spraying 32-caliber rubber pellets, and capisicum canisters normally used to quash prison riots.

Not only is the state's response to the protestors a cause for grave concern, but so too is the make-up of the protests. There's a substantial cohort of stubborn anti-vaxxers who turn out regularly, but this week they were joined by construction workers who had just found out there would be no work for two weeks as building sites faced a snap lockdown.

They were later accused of not being 'real' construction workers but far-right stooges somehow co-opted into protesting. Seriously.

It seems that Desperate Dan Andrews has lost the plot, as more and more folk from all walks of life are taking to the streets to have their voices heard - yet instead of being listened to, they are being corralled and pepper-sprayed into submission or bullied into being vaccinated.

This is Australia's problem and it is theirs to solve, but the use of non-lethal force is not the answer, it's a last resort. So if the politicians are reaching for the semi-automatics at this point of the discussion it shows not only are they bereft of answers, they have lost control.

How this can happen over such lunkheaded mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic should be a cause of national embarrassment. Australia has escaped relatively lightly compared to many countries, with just under 1,200 deaths from 88,710 cases of the virus, with the majority of those lives lost in Victoria (833), the country's most densely populated state.

Yet the civil unrest about the continuing mismanagement is off the scale, because nothing seems to be improving. While the UK, Europe and the US are moving towards a post-Covid future, Australian health officials are still struggling with vaccination programmes, breakouts of virus variants and sporadic lockdowns that no one understands.

Politicians across the world are already facing their day of reckoning, with France already indicting a former health minister, but as sure as eggs is eggs, when Australia finally arrives at a point where its population demands accountability from its leaders, it's gonna be messy. Very bloody messy.
Damian Wilson is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.