Police have made three arrests at Melbourne’s St Kilda Beach after hundreds of officers spent hours trying to keep a far-right rally and a counter protest apart.
- Police arrested three people during the rally, but were generally happy with how the afternoon unfolded
- St Kilda Beach has been the target of a police operation all summer
- Far-right activist Neil Erikson has previously been convicted of inciting violence
Hundreds of far-right and anti-fascist protesters faced off as mounted police joined officers in riot gear and public response order vehicles on the beach, trying to keep the two groups apart and rounding up trouble-makers when scuffles broke out.
The conflict spilled onto the road when far-right demonstrators attacked a car which was carrying a loudspeaker broadcasting “Sudanese are welcome, racists are not”.
The two groups then started mingling together, circling each other, yelling and shouting, and running off in different directions.
At a press conference just after 5:00pm, Superintendent Tony Silva said one person had been arrested for breaching their bail conditions, one person was arrested on a drug charge and another was charged with possessing a dangerous article, being “a number of large fishing sinkers”.
An unspecified number of others were temporarily detained over public order incidents before being released.
Superintendent Silva described keeping the groups apart as a “challenge”, remaining on the scene until about 4.30pm until police deemed it was safe for officers to stand down their operation.
However, he said he was generally pleased with how the afternoon played out.
“I certainly felt that we had it under control,” he said.
“To my knowledge there was no injuries, both to any of the public and also the police.
“So, to me, that’s a very successful day.”
When asked if he had intelligence to suggest the protests would become a regular event, Superintendent Silva said, “I honestly hope it’s not”.
“It’s taken a lot of police resources to control this protest today.
“But people have a right to protest — this is their human right as people have a right to walk along the St Kilda foreshore.”
Senator Fraser Anning thanked by organiser for attending rally
Controversial independent Queensland senator Fraser Anning has attended the rally, saying he went to support the “Vietnamese community” being attacked by “African gangs” in a Facebook post.
Mr Anning’s time in Federal Parliament has been tumultuous, with him leaving One Nation just hours before being sworn in to the Upper House after a spat with leader Pauline Hanson.
After a short stint as an independent, he joined Katter’s Australia Party (KAP) and was criticised for using the term “final solution” during his first speech on migration, which led to his expulsion from the party more than a week later.
Organiser of the rally Neil Erikson, who has been convicted of inciting contempt towards Muslims, thanked Mr Anning for his attendance at the event.
A video of the incident posted on social media showed young men playing soccer on the St Kilda foreshore. A group of far-right activists, led by Mr Erikson, refused requests from the group and police to stop recording and a dispute broke out, during which police allege a 25-year-old man from the football-playing group assaulted an officer.
Last week’s incident prompted Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville to warn that people inciting violence would be held to account by police and the law.
“I want people to let police get on and do their job of keeping our beaches and our streets safe, which they do a great job of,” she said.
“I would encourage all people not to attempt to incite violence and cause trouble on our beaches or our streets.”
St Kilda Beach has been the subject of an increased police presence and a local council crack-down on public drinking this summer, following a number of violent incidents.
Superintendent Silva said police would step up patrols in St Kilda tonight to ensure there are no outbreaks of violence.