Police have arrested 16 anti-lockdown protesters and fined 21 others during “chaotic” scenes in Melbourne’s south-east in which demonstrators were chased by police on horseback.
About 50 to 100 demonstrators began protesting at the State Library but moved to Elsternwick Park where they were pursued by police.
Photographers from Australian Associated Press who were at the scene said the protest was “chaotic”.
There was “a lot of running and not much protesting”, one photographer said.
One arrested man said he was within five kilometres of his house, had “done nothing wrong” and police would have to “answer to the Lord Jesus Christ”.
Some protesters ended up marching along Elwood Beach in a loose formation before they were again dispersed by police, resulting in several arrests on Ormond Esplanade.
Throughout the disjointed protest there was shouted criticism of the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, and coronavirus restrictions.
Some protesters continued to scatter through back streets, jumping fences into private property.
One arrested by police was filmed by Nine News telling officers: “Wake up, I know you already know this is wrong.”
Protesters have indicated there will potentially be further demonstrations on Sunday.
Victoria police said the protest was a “blatant breach” of the chief health officer’s directions.
“We are frustrated that these people continue to put the lives of Victorians at risk,” a police statement said on Saturday afternoon.
“While we know the majority of the community are doing the right thing, the behaviour of these selfish few who choose to blatantly ignore the direction will not be tolerated.”
Anti-lockdown protesters have been using encrypted messaging to organise “freedom day” rallies to try and avoid police learning their location.
Andrews urged Victorians not to attend demonstrations when announcing the state’s 21 new coronavirus cases and seven more deaths on Saturday. It was the lowest number of new Covid-19 cases in the state since 24 June.
“Go home,” Andrews said. “Go home and follow the rules. That is a very simple message.
“There is no need to protest about anything … It just doesn’t make any sense. You are potentially putting the strategy at risk. No one should be doing anything to contribute to the spread of this virus.
“Twenty-one cases today – seriously. [The strategy] is working. We’re getting there.
“Victoria police are not mucking about and they will deal with these people because it is a selfish act. It is an irresponsible and unlawful act.”
Meanwhile, the Australian social services minister, Anne Ruston, said more than 1.6 million Australians would have to wait until after the October budget to learn if the government would permanently extend its coronavirus supplement to jobseeker.
Ruston on Saturday said the government would not make a call until it could see the impact of a scheduled reduction in payments from next week.
“We will not be making announcements in budget,” she told reporters “We don’t know what Australia is going to look like on the other side of this pandemic. We don’t know when it’s going to end.
“So we will remain agile and we will continue to provide the support that is needed for Australia and Australians.”
About 1.6 million Australians receive unemployment payments, which were boosted in April by $550 a fortnight. From next week, the supplement will be cut to $250 each fortnight.
That reduction alone will plunge many families into hardship, the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) chief executive, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said.
Goldie said Australians would start skipping meals and foregoing fresh fruit and vegetables due to uncertainty around the boosted payments.
“While it might suit some within government to not make decisions yet ... 1.6 million people are worrying today about how they are going to get through Christmas,” she said.
Acoss is calling on the Morrison government to legislate a permanent increase to jobseeker or at least guarantee a level of increased payments beyond this year.
“The government says that it has peoples’ backs – that means delivering adequacy of income support and confidence that is not going to be taken away in just a few months time,” Goldie said.
The social services minister also revealed that although the aged pension would not be indexed as usual due to economic conditions, extra support for older Australians would be announced in the budget.