Police arrest 74 and fine 176 after Vic Market protest

Violence erupted at one of Melbourne’s main attractions as police clashed with anti-lockdown protesters among the fruit and vegetable stalls of the Queen Victoria Market.

In angry and heated exchanges close to 250 protesters opposing the government's coronavirus restrictions flocked to the market from about 11am on Sunday morning.

Police clashed with protesters at the Queen Victoria Market on SundayCredit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Police arrested 74 protesters and issued more than $280,000 in fines to those caught breaching lockdown restrictions including the protest's 44-year-old leader who's now facing an incitement charge as police prepare a search warrant for the man's Burwood East home.

The location of the protest had been kept largely a secret before being posted on social media about an hour before it began. The protest came hours after a Melbourne woman filmed police pulling her from a car, sparking a fresh social media storm about the enforcement of coronavirus restrictions.

Tensions spiked about 11.45am as a group of more than 50 protesters were surrounded by police on Peel Street. Police – including members of the public order response unit as well as uniformed police and plain clothed detectives – greatly outnumbered protesters.

The protesters gathered on Peel Street chanting "peace and love" and "freedom" before they were plucked from the crowd invidivually and taken away for questioning as objects were thrown at heavily armed police in riot gear.

Protesters could be heard throughout shouting that the arrests were in breach of human rights, with police attempting to put masks on those they led away.

Stunned shoppers stood and watched as police stood shoulder to shoulder in a ring of steel around the western side of the market, with one distressed woman treated for shock outside a stand of bananas.

As police appeared to get the protest under control, a second group of anti-lockdown activists ran towards Flagstaff Gardens about 12.45pm, as one police officer wrestled a man to the ground with the help of police on horseback.

A police spokesman said many protesters were aggressive and threatened violence towards officers with one charged with assaulting police.

Stunned shoppers watched as police clashed with protesters at the market.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

"Our investigations into this protest will continue, and we expect to issue further fines once the identity of individuals has been confirmed," they said

"We again urge people not to leave home to protest."

A police spokesman said the 44-year-old from Burwood East, believed to be a "primary agitator" for the protest remained in custody late on Sunday.

The protest was the second for the weekend. Rallies fizzled out on Saturday amid confusion over locations, gloomy weather and an immense police presence.

One man at Queen Victoria Market wearing a red and black bandanna yelled at police he felt unsafe, before launching into a tirade about his views.

"Dude, I’m scared. I don’t even know how I’m going to pay this fine," he yelled. "Heartless, soulless people. We’ve all lost faith."

The man walked away from the market with an on-the-spot fine. Others sucked on lollipops while police questioned them on why they weren’t wearing masks.

While Premier Daniel Andrews would not be drawn on whether police tactics should change after repeated protests, he said on Sunday that police did a "very good job yesterday in a challenging set of circumstances".

"Protesting is selfish, protesting is stupid and protesting is dangerous [during the pandemic], and if you do it, you will be dealt with," he said.

Police issued 200 fines to people breaking stage four "stay at home" directions across the state in the 24 hours to 12.30pm on Sunday.

More than 8580 vehicles were stopped by police at checkpoints, with nine people fined at these sites.

One such incident caused a fresh storm over enforcement after a social media post on Saturday night in which Natalie Bonett claimed she was stopped by police at a vehicle checkpoint at Wallan, north of Melbourne.

In the video, which has been shared by thousands of people online, an officer asks the woman: "Are you going to state your name and address to me?"

He then asks Ms Bonett to step out of the car. After she refuses to leave the car, the officer calls to others and Ms Bonett complains that she is being questioned about having a phone charger that is sold "everywhere".

The police officer replies: "That's not the problem any more, the problem is you are not stating your name for me, could you get out of the car please?"

She again refuses, saying she "doesn't feel safe" because the police officer is armed.

The police officer then says: "You are safe, don't worry about that," before opening the car door, unbuckling Ms Bonett's seat belt and dragging her out of the car.

A man in the car can be heard yelling: "She's got anxiety, relax, she's sick!" as Ms Bonett screams.

On social media, the woman claimed four officers later "had their knees in my back and [I] couldn’t breathe", as she was handcuffed.

"I am shaking and my blood is boiling," she posted on Facebook.

Another video posted online, but subsequently deleted, showed Ms Bonett sitting on the ground handcuffed.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said officers spoke to Ms Bonett about her mobile phone "obstructing her view due to its position on the windscreen", explaining that this was against the law.

After she did not remove the phone from her windscreen, she also refused to provide her name or her driver’s licence, according to police.

"The woman was warned that if she did not provide her details, she would be arrested. She still refused and was asked by police to get out of her car," the spokeswoman said. "When she refused this request, she was taken from the car by officers and taken into custody."

The 29-year-old from Wallan was released by police after her arrest and police said she was expected to be charged with driving with obscured vision, failing to produce a licence, failing to state her name and address, resisting arrest, assaulting police and offensive language.

"Victoria Police reminds all drivers that the Road Safety Act requires that they must state their name and address and produce their driver’s licence when requested to do so by a police officer," the statement said.

Speaking about Ms Bonett’s situation, Mr Andrews said: "No one is entitled, when pulled over, to not provide their name or not provide their driver's licence.

"All of that could have simply been avoided if the person had simply, after the fourth time she was asked, given her name."

More fines issued

A Gembrook family who claimed they were heading to a hospital to sign documents did a U-turn out of a vehicle checkpoint after police said they would call the hospital to confirm the story.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said the family were pulled over and said they were heading to Warragul hospital, but the vehicle’s boot was "packed full of items".

"Police said they would call the hospital to confirm their reason for travelling," the spokeswoman said.

"The driver changed their mind, did a U-turn and headed home after being told they would be fined if their reason for travelling couldn’t be verified."

A couple from Sale told police they had driven more than 185 kilometres to Dandenong because they "needed to buy specific vegetables that their baby liked".

Fourty-eight people were given $1652 infringements for breaching Melbourne’s 8pm-to-5am curfew.

Six men were caught drinking at a Geelong home. When police arrived, the men jumped the back fence, but the home owner was fined.

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