Chief Minister Andrew Barr has taken aim at political forces prepared to spend large amounts of money in support of disruptive anti-vaccination rallies to help their federal political ambitions ahead of the election and warned authorities had limited power to deny people the right to protest.
Mr Barr declined to say who he was talking about in a Monday morning radio interview, not wanting to "give them anymore publicity".
"But I think people just need to read between the lines and see who turns up to these sort of rallies and who spends money promoting them," Mr Barr said.
Authorities were also limited in blocking people coming to the territory to stage protests, the Chief Minister said, even though most Canberrans would not have liked the crowd that amassed at Parliament House on Saturday.
"Often there are no good solutions available to these types of issues, only least-worst ones. For now, most have gone home," he said.
Mr Barr said the ACT did not have a political test for people seeking places to stay in the territory, and the government would struggle to define who was part of the so-called movement that led to widescale and disruptive protests in Canberra at the weekend.
"I understand that a lot of people didn't like some of the people who were here, but that's not a legal basis in which to deny access to accommodation facilities," he said.
Mr Barr said there was a limited legal basis for preventing the group, which expressed an "eclectic and eccentric range of reviews", from coming back to the ACT.
"I understand everyone's - or most people's - frustration. It is annoying, but we are the national capital. This is something that's been part of our city's history forever and it will be forever into the future. We will be a place of protest," Mr Barr told ABC Radio Canberra.
"It's not illegal to be in the ACT. It's not illegal to disagree with the government of the day. These protesters are not targeting Canberra as distinct from the national capital, and they're certainly not targeting the ACT government as distinct from airing a wide variety of grievances."
Mr Barr said authorities would struggle to define the movement and its supporters.
"It's going to be difficult to screen every single person who enters Exhibition Park, who may or may not be a protester and protesting against what. I just need to caution people that these sound like very simple and easy solutions, but they're not ones that are legally available," he said.
MORE A.C.T. POLITICS NEWS:
Between 10,000 and 15,000 protesters marched to Parliament House on Saturday, under a general banner of opposition to vaccine mandates. Segments of the group also expressed anti-Semitic, far-right, and pro-Christian views.
Mr Barr told The Canberra Times in a statement Exhibition Park was operating at close to its capacity at the weekend, but security agencies and venue managers were keeping a close eye on activity at all times.
Mr Barr said the protesters could not have picked a more unreceptive city for their message.
"This was always going to be a very ratty five months leading up to the election, not just in Canberra but across the country. There's going to be heightened emotions. Politics will be played hard and fast and sharp, and it will be uncomfortable," he said.
While most protesters left a camp at Exhibition Park on Sunday, about 1000 remained on Monday morning.
ACT police arrested three anti-vaccination protesters during an operation to evict the remaining campers from the Exhibition Park site. Some of the protesters have since set up new camps at sites in the ACT and surrounding areas, including at the Cotter.
Mr Barr said all of Australia's security agencies were "all over all of this" protest activity.
"People who are in breach of the law, there are legal implications. Police can and will enforce the law," he said.
More than 60 per cent of Canberrans aged 16 and over have now received a COVID-19 vaccination booster shot. The territory reported 375 new cases of coronavirus in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday, down from 458 cases reported in the previous period.
There were 51 patients in ACT hospitals as at 8pm Sunday, including four in intensive care and two who are being ventilated.
Mr Barr said the presence of the protesters "can't have helped" the coronavirus situation in the ACT, but it would be difficult to predict whether their presence would lead to a spike in cases.
"That said, the protesters were largely interstate travellers who are leaving the ACT, the impacts are more likely to be felt in other jurisdictions," he said.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: