’Unaware’ of lockdown protest

Police arrest a man during an anti-lockdown protest at Morwell Avenue and Kirkham Road, Dandenong South on 26 August. 214056_01 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A Dandenong man arrested during anti-Covid lockdown street protests in Dandenong South last year has received a good-behaviour bond.

The 44-year-old father pleaded guilty to failing to comply with Chief Health Officer directions and breaching bail at Dandenong Magistrates’ Court on 9 June.

He was one of 10 people arrested by police during highly-charged 5pm walks and protests in George Andrews Reserve, Kirkham Road and surrounds in late August.

At that stage, walkers gathered en masse in defiance of a strict stage-4 lockdown while Melbourne reeled from a rising Covid death toll.

Dandenong and Dandenong South was the state’s Covid-19 hot-spot with up to 137 active cases.

Under the lockdown, police enforced stay-at-home orders, night curfews, masks in public, 1.5-metre social distancing, and shopping and exercising within 5-kilometre limits.

On 23 August, the accused man sat at a picnic table whilst police broke up an “anti-mask protest” of about 50 males in George Andrews Reserve.

He told police he’d left home to get “some fresh air”.

When asked why he didn’t wear a mask, he said: “I don’t think there is a reason to wear one”.

“My business has been shut down and I’ve lost everything, so yeah, I’m aware (of the CHO directions),” the disability pensioner said.

Three days later, he was stopped in a group of five adults by police at Morwell Avenue during a 100-strong “planned anti-lockdown and anti-masking” protest.

This time wearing a mask, he told police he was out to exercise with family members.

He refused twice to provide his name-and-address, was arrested and later released on bail.

On 1 September, he was stopped by police walking within 1.5 metres of his cousin and neighbour in Renfree Street.

He was in breach of intentionally gathering with more than one person in a public place – and so also his bail condition of obeying CHO directions.

A defence lawyer told Dandenong Magistrates’ Court on 9 June that the “deeply remorseful” man had not set out to intentionally disobey the rules.

He was related to the protest’s alleged organizer but was “in no way involved with them”, the court was told.

Nor had he been aware of the nearby protests, or intended to take part in them, the lawyer said.

The man needed to walk as exercise and to manage his schizophrenia during the “challenging” lockdown period, the lawyer said.

He’d been out walking alone or with his family at the time, then “ran into people he knew” within the “large Albanian community”.

The accused man refused to give police his name and address because he didn’t believe he was breaching restrictions at the time, the court heard.

Magistrate Tony Burns placed the man on a 12-month good-behaviour bond without conviction.