Guardian, July 19, 2015
Five people have been arrested at anti-racism and anti-Islam rallies in Sydney, a day after violent clashes at similar protests in Melbourne.
About 150 members of the Reclaim Australia group gathered in Sydney’s Martin Place on Sunday morning, some wearing ancient Greek army costumes and others with Australian flags draped across their shoulders.
Two blocks away, a loud counter-protest group waved banners saying “Stand with multiculturalism against racism” and “No racism, no Islamophobia”.
Police kept the groups separated but one man was swooped on by officers after slipping into the anti-racism protest.
The crowd became noisy and several people shouted “Nazi” as he was led away.
George Jameson, rallying with Reclaim Australia in a replica Spartan military outfit, said they weren’t racists and had come together to stand up for freedom of speech.
“Both my parents are immigrants. They both came from the former Yugoslav Republic, how can I be a racist? I’m a first-gen Aussie,” he said. “I’m [here] for freedom of speech and democracy and respecting individualism, respecting someone’s dignity and their human rights.”
But at the other end of the street, protester Linc Saunders said some had different intentions.
“There are people amongst them who are involved with the violent far-right groups,” he said. “The fact that some of them spout online pro neo-Nazi propaganda, I think that just shows who we are up against here.”
Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke, who was in charge of police operations in the city told reporters: “We’re quite pleased with the way the day has gone.
“Overall we had a reasonably good level of compliance with the protesters.”
Two of those arrested are likely to be charged: a 40-year-old woman who allegedly assaulted police and a 57-year-old man accused of offensive behaviour.
Three other men, two aged 19 and one 35, were arrested for breaching the peace and made to leave the protests. They haven’t been charged.
Clarke wouldn’t say with which group the arrested people were rallying.
A 35-year-old man was hospitalised with minor head injuries and a 48-year-old man was treated for a minor facial cut at the scene.
Similar protests in Melbourne on Saturday were much more heated, with at least four people arrested and dozens hit with capsicum spray by police who battled to keep the two sides apart.
Other Sunday rallies were planned for Canberra, Hobart, Perth and Queensland, including Mackay, where federal government MP George Christensen and Pauline Hanson were among Reclaim Australia’s scheduled speakers.
The opposition immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, has said it was “extraordinary” that Tony Abbott allowed MPs to attend “racist” rallies while inflicting a boycott on the ABC’s Q&A program.
Christensen disputes the racist label. “Labor has declared that Mackay residents attending the Reclaim Australia rally against extreme Islam are racists,” Mr Christensen wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “They can say what they like about me but I take offence at this defamation on behalf of my constituents who will be attending this rally, some of whom are life-long Labor voters.”
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said the prime minister should not allow his MPs to stir up trouble by attending Reclaim Australia rallies.
“I think Mr Abbott needs to stand with the silent majority of Australians who watch the TV and ask ‘what’s going on?’, rather than giving the green light to his MPs to stir up problems,” he told reporters in Melbourne.