Anger over vaccine mandate erupts towards Lord Mayor, Opposition Leader at Darwin church

The Darwin Lord Mayor has labelled a group opposing the NT government's vaccine mandate that heckled him and the Opposition Leader at Darwin's Greek Orthodox church on Sunday a "very small minority".

Key points:The incident occurred at the St Nicholas Greek Orthodox ChurchPolice confirmed they attended the church to resolve a disputeThere are no reports of injuries, police say

This morning, NT Police Watch Commander Richard Howie said officers attended the church after a "dispute arose between some of the 'freedom' supporters that had gathered to vocalise their beliefs".

Mr Howie said the disturbance involved yelling, pushing and shoving, but in a statement police said there were no reports of injuries.

The Oxi Day celebrations were attended by about 300 people, according to Darwin Lord Mayor Kon Vatskalis, who said there were about 20 to 30 people in the crowd who aren't usually seen at the event.

"All of a sudden they became very patriotic. But obviously, the patriotism degenerated very quickly into their own personal reviews by yelling and calling out," he told ABC Radio Darwin.

Mr Vatskalis said the most concerning behaviour on display during the flashpoint inside the church was the treatment of NT Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro.

"[She was addressed] in a very confronting and intimidating manner, which I find very disturbing," he said.

Lia Finocchiaro talks to media standing behind microphones outside Parliament.
Ms Finocchiaro said she did not want to run away from tough conversations.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

In a statement, Ms Finocchiaro said she had remained in the church and "listened respectfully to some concerns raised by community members". 

She said her attendance at the event stood in contrast to the Chief Minister, whom she accused of "running away from tough conversations" and using divisive language around vaccination.

"Leadership is about turning up and listening, even in difficult circumstances," Ms Finocchiaro said.

Last month the NT government issued a legal direction mandating workers in a broad range of settings receive their first COVID-19 vaccine by November 12.

Nicholas Poniris, the president of the Greek Orthodox Community of North Australia, which organised the Oxi Day event, told the ABC he was aware of concerns in the Greek community regarding the vaccine mandate.

"The overwhelming message we're hearing is that as we've had no community transmission, [so] why have a mandate, and with such a short timeline?" he said.

Mr Poniris also said there was concern within the Greek business community in Darwin.

"A lot of business owners have invested millions in their businesses, and they're not going to force anything on anyone," he said.

"So if some of their staff don't get vaccinated, that's going to potentially affect their business.

"If there was a large supply of labour that was skilled in various trades, then there wouldn't be an issue. But there is."

Mr Vatskalis said he believed the dissent within the church did not reflect the wider beliefs of Darwin's Greek community.

He said he was disappointed "a very small minority" remained in strong opposition to the vaccine mandate — a stance Mr Vatskalis blamed on misinformation,

"The reality is, all this about business not finding staff, if COVID-19 comes here, which absolutely it will now that the borders are opening widely, these businesses will not have staff if the staff get seriously sick with COVID," he said.

"If we don't get vaccinated, and I [say this] as an ex-NT Health Minister, and COVID comes, our health system will collapse.

"We don't have the beds, and we can't cater for the number of sick people we are going to get, because we have got an extremely vulnerable population."

Posted 1 Nov 20211 Nov 2021Mon 1 Nov 2021 at 2:50am, updated 1 Nov 20211 Nov 2021Mon 1 Nov 2021 at 9:51amShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp


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