Hundreds of protesters from opposing groups—the anti-Islam, anti-immigration Reclaim Australia and United Patriots Front, and the anti-racism groups Coalition Against Racism and No Room For Racism—have clashed at a demonstration in Melbourne today, as police used pepper spray on protesters to disperse crowds.
While the initial Reclaim Australia protest near Parliament House attracted only a few dozen protesters this morning, numbers escalated with the addition of United Patriots Front protesters. According to reports, some protesters broke police barriers separating the two groups, with authorities then deploying capsicum spray to ebb the scuffle.
Bryce Ellis, a bystander at today’s rally, told Pedestrian.TV that counter-protesters greatly outnumbered right-wing demonstrators. Ellis described the clash with police as “short” and said the aftermath of the incident showed solidarity among the counter-movement, in a city “strongly opposed against bigotry.”
“The biggest scene was seeing amongst the crowed people of all ages, races and religions, especially the muslim community interacting with one another, giving support to people who had been pepper sprayed, handing out food and water to complete strangers.”
Today’s rally in Melbourne marks the beginning of a weekend of similar demonstrations held around the country, estimated to attract thousands of counter-demonstrators as well as supporters of the anti-Islam movement.
Coalition MP George Christensen has drawn criticism this week, after penning an op-ed for The Guardian Australia, claiming that “Hell will freeze over before I withdraw from a Reclaim Australia rally”. Christensen is due to speak at a Reclaim Australia rally in Mackay this weekend, and called critics of his decision as “keyboard warriors“.
On Friday, ALP’s Tony Burke criticised the Prime Minister for allowing his colleague to attend the rally, highlighting the irony of the move – in the wake of the recent Q&A scandal and ensuing boycott. “The prime minister was willing to stop people from appearing on a television show on the ABC. We now need to find out whether he’s willing to stop one of his colleagues from attending an extremist rally that’s about dividing Australia.”
Further Reclaim Australia rallies are being held in Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart tomorrow. Leader of the One Nation Party Pauline Hanson will speak at a rally held in Rockhampton on Sunday.
Images by Darrian Traynor and Luis Ascui via Getty. Additional image by Bryce Ellis, supplied.