A shutdown of most of Victoria’s construction industry saw belligerent protests in Melbourne escalate on Tuesday and authorities double down on breaches to health orders.
At the same time, NSW foreshadowed its construction sector could return to full capacity from next week if workers complied with density rules and vaccination requirements – a move business groups welcomed.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews condemned the protests, which escalated after initial violent scenes the day prior outside CFMEU headquarters in Melbourne.
“There is no excuse for the terrible behaviour we have seen in our city,” Andrews said.
“For those of you who think violence is the answer, I ask that you think of your fellow Victorians – doing the right thing over many months, following the advice of our health experts. We have come too far to turn back now.”
Health minister Martin Foley said the decision to shut construction for two weeks followed earlier warnings over compliance and 443 cases linked to the sector across nearly 200 work sites.
“One particular site had more than 150 cases linked to its operation,” Foley said. “The public health team was left with no choice but to hit the pause button and continue to work with the sector over these next two weeks to improve compliance.”
Police say the protestors in Melbourne include construction workers and other agitators. They initially expressed resistance to getting vaccinated after Victoria mandated that all construction workers receive at least one jab to attend work this week.
Foley said workers had rushed to vaccination centres since the mandate was foreshadowed. “But clearly, at the same time, not enough yet,” he said.
NSW’s construction industry, which also shutdown in July, has been operating at half-capacity since August and can return to uncapped numbers from September 27, the government announced on Tuesday.
Workers are required to have both vaccine doses, one dose at least 21 days earlier, one dose and a test within three days, or a certified medical exemption and a test within three days.
Jennifer Westacott, chief of the Business Council of Australia, lauded NSW’s approach and blamed Victoria’s snap construction shutdown for putting the state’s recovery at risk.
“NSW has demonstrated that a best practice model, including rapid antigen testing and public health orders to drive vaccination, can get construction going safely,” Westacott said.
“Businesses are ready to work with the Victorian government to find a way through this challenge to save jobs, just as they have in NSW.”
But Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said the protestors were simply “thinking only of themselves”.
“We are calling for common sense to prevail,” she said. “Do not leave all the heavy lifting to nurses, midwives and personal care workers.”
Meanwhile in the ACT, chief health officer Dr Kerry Coleman conceded the current public health measures would not completely reduce transmission after the territory went into lockdown nearly six weeks ago.
“We believe through modelling and advice that about a third of the transmission effect from the Delta strain can be reduced through really strong public health actions,” Coleman said.
“I don’t see that there is any need to go any harder at this stage because I think we are accepting that we are unlikely to get back to zero again.”
The federal government boosted the ACT’s access to urgent mental health support on Tuesday with an extra $2.5 million, most of which will establish a Head to Health pop-up clinic.