No masks in the office as Andrews signals new freedoms

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is set to announce new freedoms including a plan to return to the office without masks from as early as Monday as the state approaches its 90 per cent fully vaccinated target.

The latest easing of restrictions comes as the state parliament’s upper house is set to vote on controversial pandemic laws, which have sparked daily protests outside the Parliament, and Mr Andrews has derided them as “ugly extremists”.

He said that while his family had been threatened, he would not be distracted by the mob, and ultimately he would be accountable to voters at the next election.

“I will not be deterred from the work I’m doing to keep every family safe. That’s the work that I’ve been given to do. That’s the job that we have to do,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday morning.

“So there are some out there who are making threats against me, and Cath and the kids. That’s not my focus.

“The focus is keeping every single Victorian family safe. And I wouldn’t want that the appalling, the disgusting, and the potentially criminal behaviour of a small number of people to detract away from the amazing job that so many Victorians have done.”

Mr Andrews, whose effigy was placed near a makeshift gallows at a protest on Monday night, said it was unfair for an “awful”, “small, ugly mob” to take the attention away from more than 90 per cent of Victorians who had taken their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

“I’m offended, not at the threats, but at the fact that this ugly behaviour might be taking the focus away from what we should be focused on – how much we’ve achieved by sticking together, not by being divided, not by this ugliness,” Mr Andrews said.

The Premier said he did not believe Victorians would easily forget the Liberal MPs who joined the protests on the front steps of State Parliament, and that they were “currying favour with extremists”.

Several state Liberal MPs visited the large group of protesters gathered on the steps of Parliament House, some of whom chanted violent slogans around a full-sized gallows and called for people to “dance on the end of a rope”.

Victorian Deputy Premier James Merlino said there were people within the Liberal Party who were “actively encouraging this kind of extremist behaviour and extremist views”.

“Last time around, [Opposition Leader] Matthew Guy associated with mobsters; this time, he’s sidled up to far-right extremists and anti-vaxxers,” he said. “You can’t be the premier of the state if that is your behaviour. That’s my view on these matters.”

Mr Guy has condemned the behaviour of protesters but has not banned members of his team from attending and speaking to the crowd.

Mr Andrews said that if people had listened to some of the protesters, the state would not have reached the 90 per cent first-dose vaccination rate, and the 90 per cent fully vaccinated target was expected to be reached as early as Monday, bringing in new freedoms.

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