Coburg race rally: mask ban flagged to stop protest violence
May 29, 2016
Protesters could be banned from wearing masks at rallies in Victoria after another violent race riot broke out between rival groups.
Seven people were arrested, with police vowing to arrest even more with the launch of a new taskforce, after anti-Islam protesters and their far-right supporters clashed once again with a group of anti-racism activists.
Masked protesters in Coburg on Saturday. Photo: Mathew Lynn
This time the battleground was outside a library and primary school in Coburg on Saturday, but the usual suspects, many who cover their faces in balaclavas or masks, have found themselves in previous scuffles at multiple events in Bendigo and the CBD.
Acting Premier James Merlino said he had spoken with police about the continued violence stemming from balaclava-clad protesters and would consider any police request for additional laws.
“Those people who wear face masks, who carry weapons, who engage in violent behaviour, that is utterly unacceptable,” Mr Merlino told reporters on Sunday.
Police watch over some of the demonstrators. Photo: Mathew Lynn
“We will work closely with Victoria Police to give them the powers that they need to deal with this kind of behaviour.”
Police Minister Lisa Neville said it was a “disturbing trend” to see protesters wear masks, and she would discuss whether they could be banned with Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton during a meeting on Monday.
“This is about people being given a licence when they wear those masks to try and participate in criminal behaviour,” she told Fairfax Radio.
Pepper spray is used to break up brawling. Photo: Mathew Lynn
Senior police have already labelled those who covered their faces at the protests as “cowards”.
“All they’re looking for is a fight,” said Commander Sharon Cowden, who announced a new taskforce to deal with the violent protesters.
“We saw inappropriate and often cowardly behaviour with people wearing masks and hiding their identity.”
Protesters from rival groups, many wearing masks or balaclavas, fight each other in Coburg. Photo: Mathew Lynn
The rival groups have largely blamed each other for starting the violence.
But footage of one of the clashes appears to show the fight was mutual, with both anti-Islam and anti-racism protesters walking around police lines and bashing each other.
Victoria Police Commander Sharon Cowden said some of the protesters were just looking for a fight. Photo: Mathew Lynn
It is the latest outbreak of violence stemming from the extreme ends of politics and overshadowing what were meant to be peaceful but vocal protests over the past year.
On the one side is the anti-fascist Antifa group, along with radical socialists, anarchists and anti-racists, who frequently battle far-right protesters at these events, some who support the United Patriots Front and a newer “pro-Australian” group who called themselves the True Blue Crew.
“We take great pride in protecting the everyday Australians, who only want to speak out in defence of our nation,” the True Blue Crew posted on its Facebook page.
“This is a callout to patriots out there, who like what they saw today, who are willing to stand with us against the far left-wing scum.”
The United Patriots Front said members were only standing their ground until their rivals approached them.
“The idiots marched right into us not knowing what they were walking into; our boys smashed them,” the group said on its Facebook page.
“These kids have hit us with violence from the beginning – and we will continue to respond in kind.”
But police said there were problems from both sides.
“People need to reflect on the message they are sending our communities by committing acts of violence and inciting hatred,” Victoria Police said in a statement.
“Urging violence and hatred within our community is not a form of free speech and will not be tolerated.”
The new police taskforce is combing through security camera footage to hunt down the rest of the troublemakers who attended the rival protests.
Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.