Shock videos: What's happening to Australia?

The still photos are bad…

…but the videos are worse, as you’ll see

They were recorded a few days ago in Melbourne, the country’s second-biggest city and site of the “longest lockdown anywhere in the world” in furtherance of Australia’s “zero COVID” strategy. Melbourne’s been under stay-at-home orders off and on for 233 days so far. Australia got a late start on vaccinations but is scrambling to catch up, hoping to ease restrictions once they reach some plausible threshold of herd immunity on the order of 80 percent. Right now, half that number are fully vaccinated.

As part of the vaccination effort, authorities in Melbourne recently announced that all construction workers across the city’s home state of Victoria would need to get their first dose by this past Thursday. Why construction workers? It’s because state officials have data showing that an unusually large share of COVID cases (13 percent) have been linked to construction sites. They’re so intent on stopping the spread at those sites, in fact, that recently they started shutting down workers’ break rooms. Angry workers responded by setting up tables and chairs in the intersections of city streets, taking their breaks there and obstructing traffic in the process.

In NPR’s telling, things came to a head on Monday when protesters descended on the local construction trade union office. Some were actual construction workers who object to the vaccine mandate but others were random anti-vaxxers and Neo-Nazis, according to the government, who were there to show solidarity or make trouble or both. (The fluorescent vests worn by some protesters in the clips below are commonly worn by construction workers.) At some point the protest turned into a riot, with demonstrators attempting to storm the trade union and throwing rocks and bottles at police while the police fired rubber bullets.

A taste:

The fact that some “protesters” were actually rioters complicates the short clips below. Do they show crazed cops violently assaulting peaceful demonstrators for doing nothing more than disobeying a stay-at-home order? Or do they show cops responding to a crazed mob that had violently assaulted them shortly before the footage was recorded?

Could be both, of course. You can object to people throwing bottles at police without believing that it gives officers the right to stroll through the streets of Melbourne pumping rubber bullets at everyone in sight as if they’re playing a first-person shooter.

The Aussie government insisted afterward that the rioters were the aggressors, even scolding them for urinating on Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. Is that the truth or just part of the state’s PR effort to keep the balance of popular opinion on the side of lockdowns by demonizing those who resist them?

The most disturbing video circulating today has no violence in it. It’s this scene of police officers in another part of the country interrogating a man in the interest of “public safety” about whether he knows of any protests coming up. I can’t tell if that’s because they’re worried about a riot in their jurisdiction too or if they’re really willing to go this far to prevent people from congregating in public for fear that they’ll spread the virus. Australia has lost very few people to COVID thanks to their lockdown strategy, but they’ve lost other important things in the process.

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