About 18 people attended a protest in Tumut on Tuesday as part of a statewide movement against mandatory vaccinations.
Across the state, 153 people were arrested that day, and 573 Penalty Infringement Notices (PINs) were issued, but none were recorded in Tumut.
Angeline Walker, a local woman who attended the protests, said the event was peaceful and aimed at “saying no to mandatory vaccines and freedom for pro choice.”
“About a dozen people peacefully attended with face masks and social distancing to our free rights to protest in Australia outside the Tumut council chambers,” she said.
Mrs Walker was critical of the response from police, saying she objected to feeling ‘bullied’ and ‘threatened’ for attending a peaceful protest.
The tone of the vaccine debate has risen in recent weeks after announcements from the NSW Government that certain ‘freedoms’ will only be granted to people who are fully vaccinated. Although the distinction isn’t yet being made in Regional NSW, it will apply in Sydney, starting September 13, when vaccinated adults will be allowed to gather outdoors in groups of up to five people for an hour.
The government has also stated that an individual’s vaccine status will be added to the Service NSW check-in app and there will likely be additional distinctions made in the future, allowing vaccinated adults to enjoy al fresco dining in areas where unvaccinated adults are still required to stay at home.
Teachers have also been ‘strongly encouraged’ by the NSW Department of Education to get fully vaccinated before returning to their classrooms on October 25.
A statement from NSW Police Force said officers acted on “information and intelligence” received prior to the protests, deploying more than 900 officers on Tuesday morning to “conduct high-visibility patrols of various sites expected to be targeted by unauthorised protests, including NSW Parliament House and local council chambers.”
The gathering in Tumut was held in front of the Snowy Valleys Council Chambers on Capper St. With council staff largely working from home during the pandemic, few were in the office to witness the protest.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro was critical of the protesters.
“It’s selfish what they’re doing,” he said.
“What they can cause is a seeding event by gathering and not abiding by lockdown rules.”
Mr Barilaro said the vaccination targets are aimed at providing the community with “a level of freedoms,” once 70 and 80 per cent of the population have had two jabs.
“There’s always going to be people in the community that feel like they don’t have to follow the rules,” he said on Tuesday afternoon.
He criticised the move, saying it puts added pressure on the state’s health system when doctors, nurses and other staff have been risking their own health throughout the pandemic to continue going to work to save lives.
“The individuals who won’t get vaccinated and want to protest most likely will have to rely on the health system at some point in their lives, and it’s very selfish what they’ve done today,” he said.
Mr Barilaro reiterated his comments again on Wednesday, saying the protests were jeopardizing the Riverina’s chances of leaving lockdown after September 10.
“I am quietly confident that on a regional perspective there is an opportunity to come out of lockdown on September 10 but what they did [Tuesday], risks all of that,” he said.
“It’s selfish, it’s self-indulgent and I’m glad there have been hundreds of penalties and I know the police will penalise anyone who attended that they can get their hands on.”
Mr Barilaro said it is “about time some of these people pull their heads in because they are risking the better good of us coming out of lockdown.”
Police Deputy Commissioner Mick Willing echoed the Deputy Premier’s statements.
“Now is not the time to be engaging in those sorts of protests or gatherings because of the risk that they pose,” he said.
In total, NSW Police responded to 79 unauthorised protests, during which three officers received minor injuries following interactions with protestors at Lismore, Murwillumbah and Raymond Terrace.
The majority of the PINs which were issued on the day were for: not wear fitted masked covering in prescribed outdoor gathering ($500), not comply with noticed direction re s7/8/9 – COVID-19 ($1000), and unlawfully participate in outdoor public gathering – stay at home order ($3000).
Total fines and arrests for NSW’s Southern Region included:
Wollongong Council: 2 arrested and 2 PINs issued
Goulburn Council: 1 arrested and 5 PINs issued
Southern Highlands (Moss Vale) Council: 2 arrested and 6 PINs issued
Shellharbour Council: 1 arrested and 3 PINs issued
Cooma Post Office: Six people dispersed on police arrival
Albury Council: 1 arrested and 9 PINs issued
Berrigan Council: 1 arrested and 2 PINs issued
Bega: 5 PINs issued
Moruya: 1 arrested and 10 PINs issued
Nowra: Up to 40 people dispersed on police arrival
Ulladulla: 2 arrested and 2 PINs issued
Griffith Council: Up to 15 people dispersed on police arrival
Wagga Wagga Council: 2 arrested and 4 PINs issued
Snowy Mountains Council-Tumut: About 18 people dispersed on police arrival
Inquiries into the incidents are continuing and further PINs are expected to be issued, including for failing to comply with self-isolation direction ($5000).