Pallas says financial impact of pro-Palestine protest over-emphasised

On Monday evening, fiery clashes erupted between police and protesters who blocked a terminal at the Port of Melbourne for four days, as part of a targeted campaign to prevent ships reaching Israel.

Ten pro-Palestine demonstrators have been arrested after activists clashed with police at the Port of Melbourne.

More than 200 police officers, including some on horseback, were deployed on Monday following a request from port operators Victorian International Container Terminal (VICT) to have the protesters removed.

The protesters were targeting ships carrying Israeli-owned cargo company ZIM’s containers, which they say are being used to deliver weapons and other goods to Israel to support their offensive in Gaza. The Age has not seen evidence that the containers are being used to transport weapons to the Middle East. ZIM has been contacted for comment.

The terminal’s chief executive, Bruno Porchietto, said the demonstration had prevented six vessels from different countries from operating out of the port.

Roughly 50,000 containers had been stopped from leaving since Friday, and delays would be ongoing for some time, Porchietto told the ABC.

“Yesterday we were finally set free from an occupation of private property,” he said.

“The Australian economy has been damaged really badly by people who claim they support the cause overseas that doesn’t have anything to do with it, with what’s happening in the port.

“We have to recover, those three days are lost.”

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said the financial impact of the blockade had been over-emphasised, and he expected any short protest would have a limited long-term impact on the economy.

Police were called to intervene after pro-Palestine protesters blockaded the Port of Melbourne for several days. Nine

“I understand that people do get inconvenienced, and that’s unfortunately a reality of industrial relations, and it’s a reality of civil protests which people have a right to do, provided it is civil,” he said.

Victoria Police said they used pepper spray to disperse the crowd when it swelled from about 40 to 120 people. Nine people were charged with trespassing and one person is expected to be charged with criminal damage on Tuesday.

Activists claim the police were heavy-handed and overzealous in their use of pepper spray, with Melbourne Activist Legal Support referring the complaint to police command.

Volunteers who attended the demonstration say pepper spray was used against people who didn’t present a direct threat and, in one instance, police dragged a person out of a wheelchair.

The group said it had referred its complaints to several law firms and a more detailed statement of concern would be released to police command and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

Porchietto said police should have the right to defend themselves, as would be expected in any country around the world.

“Police did a fantastic job in moving out those people which are pretty aggressive, and it did this very smoothly with basically no violence,” he said.

A large police presence is expected at the port throughout the day to stop protesters from returning and resuming the blockade.

Hundreds of port workers had been prevented from entering the site due to the blockade. Transport operators were awaiting advice from port authorities on Tuesday morning about whether trucks would be able to access the port.

A ZIM vessel that arrived on Friday has now been scheduled to depart on Tuesday evening, while another two vessels shipping ZIM containers are set to depart in the next 48 hours.

Police said in a statement the blockade had gone on so long because, without a request from property owners, they had not been authorised to intervene.

Porchietto said he had contacted Port of Melbourne to have police intervene over the weekend but had been told police did not have the resources. He said he was unaware that he should have contacted police directly.

“The chain of communication was not followed properly,” he said.

A demonstrator from the blockade will speak about the police intervention during a planned protest at Flagstaff Gardens on Tuesday.

A group calling on the City of Melbourne to condemn attacks on Gaza will meet at the gardens from 6pm.

More than 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been reported killed since Israel began bombing the territory after Hamas’s October 7 attacks, in which 1200 people were killed.

Free Palestine Melbourne said the council should publicly display the Palestinian flag for six months and cancel contracts with companies that support Israel’s offensive.

In a statement, Port of Melbourne said its priority was the safe operation of the port and the movement of goods for Victorians.

“We are aware of congestion at the port and are working to mitigate the effects,” they said.

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