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Melbourne protesters ‘should be ashamed’ after standoff at Shrine of Remembrance, Scott Morrison says

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have slammed protesters involved in Wednesday’s tense standoff with police at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, declaring their actions “disgusting”.

While on Wednesday the assistant minister to the attorney general, Amanda Stoker, disavowed the violence but validated the “deep frustration” of the activists, arguing the breakout was a response to the long lockdown, Morrison told reporters in Washington the protesters should be “ashamed” of the run on the shrine.

Before Morrison spoke in Washington, Frydenberg appeared on Andrew Bolt’s evening program on Sky News after Victorian police swarmed to end the impasse. “I have been very disturbed and distressed by events in Melbourne over recent days – the chaotic scenes on our streets and riot police,” he said.

Related: Melbourne protests: far-right extremists or construction workers?

The treasurer acknowledged that people in his home state of Victoria had been subjected to the “longest lockdown anywhere in the world”.

But he said that was no excuse for the behaviour playing out in the city.

“I agree with the RSL,” Frydenberg said. “They have made very clear the shrine is a sacred place, not a place of protest.”

“It is quite disgusting to see those protesters at the shrine, given that it’s there to commemorate lives of people that have been lost defending our civil liberties, defending the rule of law – only to be set upon by those determined to break the rules.”

Bolt told Frydenberg the protesters might respond to his critique by asking where else should people protest for their “freedom” than at the Shrine of Remembrance – a place marking the sacrifice of Australians who had died to defend liberty.

Frydenberg replied: “We can disagree on that one Andrew.”

Bolt responded by saying he was putting the point of view of the protesters. “I don’t know where I stand on this,” the Sky host said.

Early on Thursday, Morrison said the tactics were “disrespectful and … dishonoured those Australians who have made the ultimate sacrifice and I would hope any and all who were in that should be ashamed”.

Related: What do we know about the protests in Melbourne, and how did the numbers grow?

On Wednesday afternoon, Stoker appeared on the ABC. Asked for her view on the storming of the shrine, the Queensland conservative said: “I think these things just reflect a deep frustration.”

She said deep-seated community anger about the protracted lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections in Victoria was finally “coming to a head”.

Stoker advised Labor premiers to take heed of the warning. “Now, that should give everybody, but particularly those state premiers who have been most heavy-handed, pause to say the heavy-handed approach for which we were initially rewarded [politically] will ultimately turn upon us if we don’t accelerate quickly towards the vaccination rate that is necessary to get back to normal.”

While validating the anger, Stoker however distanced herself from some of the conduct. “Violence is never OK,” she said. “Throwing items at a journalist, assaulting people, and kicking animals is never OK.”

“We have a right of peaceful protest in this country, but not a right to be thugs in the streets.”

The protests in Melbourne began at the start of the week with members of the powerful Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) resisting a state government mandate for compulsory vaccinations in order for them to continue to work on building sites.

But the civil disobedience in the city has escalated over the past 48 hours to include anti-lockdown and so-called “freedom” protesters.

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