Capital Protest

Extinction Rebellion protest closes a Canberra bridge

Instances of protests and mass acts of civil disobedience are seemingly on the increase across Australia and in other democracies. Whether in pursuit of social justice initiatives (eg: Black Lives Matters and women’s rights) or changes to government policies (eg: anti-COVID lockdowns), more and more Australians are exercising their rights to protest. Often the demonstrations are peaceful and non-violent, sometimes not. 

The climate activist group Extinction Rebellion (also referred to as XR) has been particularly active in Canberra this year, protesting the national government’s stance on climate change. Spectacular (media friendly) protests have occurred outside Parliament and at the Prime Minister’s official residence (The Lodge). Recently the group has taken advantage of the end of the COVID lockdown to temporarily close major roadways during peak traffic periods. 

In the late afternoon of 28 October, XR activists blocked northbound traffic on Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. This closed one of Canberra’s major arterial routes and forced thousands of vehicles to be redirected. The group parked two trucks in the middle of the bridge – they pitched tents and unveiled banners on the vehicles. Protesters then told the media they superglued themselves to the road and the trucks. 

Federal police from ACT Policing, the Search & Rescue Team and Water Police responded to the incident.

A police officer negotiates with protesters sitting on top of a truck. All images: OnScene ACT

Six protesters (including an 80-year-old retired schoolteacher) ignored police directions to leave so they were detained and charged. Some were removed from the scene after police cut open a device used to fasten protesters to a truck. ACT Policing subsequently stated it ‘respects the right of individuals to peacefully protest, however criminal activity will not be tolerated.’ 

Police searching a detainee before placing him into a caged vehicle.

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