MELBOURNE, Australia – Australian authorities revealed Sunday that a ban on face masks at protests will be discussed after violence erupted between anti-racism and anti-immigration groups holding counter rallies in Melbourne.
The police minister for Victoria state, Lisa Neville, told 3AW Radio that she is set to meet Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton on Monday to evaluate the clashes that broke out between opposing protesters Saturday in the multicultural suburb of Coburg.
"This issue of the use of face masks, I think that is a really disturbing trend we are seeing in these particular protests," she said.
"This is about people being given a license when they wear those masks to try and participate in criminal behavior, because that's what violence and inciting hatred is, it's criminal behavior."
Protesters, many on both sides with their faces covered, had hurled abuse at each other and faced off despite swarms of police in riot gear, including officers on horseback, forming barricades to try to keep the two groups apart.
Local city Councilor Sue Bolton -- organizer of the No to Racism rally -- told Anadolu Agency on Saturday that “a far right group, that targets Muslims in particular, organized a rally to protest against ours”.
Five people were arrested for riotous behavior and two for possession of weapons.
The Australian Associated Press also reported Sunday that Commander Sharon Cowden said police are due to form a taskforce to probe protesters who tried to hide their identity while engaging in criminal activity.
"We will be looking at the footage, finding out what else we can do, to track these people down and bring them to justice," she was quoted as telling reporters after Saturday’s rally.
"We saw inappropriate and often cowardly behavior with people wearing masks and hiding their identity."
Bolton had distanced herself from the violence.
She told Anadolu Agency that protesters involved in scuffles with the extreme right group were “not part of our rally”.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has said that around one in five Australians say they have experienced race-hate talk, such as verbal abuse, racial slurs or name-calling.
More than one in 20 Australians also say they have been physically attacked because of their race.
Coburg is considered to be one of the most multi-cultural suburbs of Australia.
It has a large Greek and Italian presence, and in recent years many people with Arabic backgrounds have also settled there.