In Melton, on the outskirts of Melbourne, anti-Islam and anti-racist groups were at loggerheads as tension between the two mounted during a Reclaim Australia rally and a counter rally called No Room for Racism. Around 500 police personnel were called in to oversee 1500 demonstrators from both groups.
The rally was held to protest against the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal's decision to issue a permit for the Melbourne Islamic Centre to build a mosque and Islamic school. One Reclaim Australia protester told AAP, "Some people might be here for the wrong reasons, and the right reason is making sure everyone assimilates and becomes Australian.
"We don't want to be treated like we don't belong in this town and we don't want an organisation where people of certain origins have been making trouble. We don't want trouble in our town."
Seven individuals were arrested of which three were booked for carrying knives while one was taken in for attacking a police horse. Two others were charged with riotous behaviour. Chants of "Aussie Aussie Aussie" were countered with "Nazi" and "racists" from the opposing group.
Commenting on the number of demonstrators from both groups, who attended the event wearing masks, assistant commissioner North West Metro Region Stephen Leane said, "If you've come prepared with weapons or face masks, you shouldn't be fronting them (the protests)."
Victoria Police Acting Commander Alan Byrne also suggested that wearing masks hinted at plans to go beyond peacefully protesting. "You start to wonder about why they're here and what their intentions are when they've got masks on to hide their faces."
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews condemned the violent turn the protests took, saying, "If you are out there peddling hate, you are not a protester, you are just a bigot. It is simple as that."
With the increasing threat of Islamic State (Isis) and religion-based terrorism, protests against Muslims and Islam have been on the rise in Australia. Other parts of the country have witnessed similar violent protests as well. In Sydney, a mix of 300 anti-Islam and anti-racism protesters gathered in Martin Place.
Omar Hassan, one of the anti-racism rally organisers insisted that their aim was simply to have a peaceful demonstration. "We're here to send a strong message against racism following, obviously, the tragedies in Paris," he said and added, "We're concerned that the far right will try to mobilize legitimate fear and concern in a racist and divisive way. So we're here to send an anti-racist and inclusive message."
Similar rallies were held in Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.