Authorities in Queensland and Tasmania respond to public anger over climate with laws to curb protest and dissent.
Climate activist Greg Rolles said he does not enjoy breaking the law, but he feels like there is no other option.
According to him,”Sometimes you’ve got to put the common good of all people ahead of your own needs and interests,”. Rolles added, “I don’t want to be bullied by the media or deal with police, but I also don’t want to leave the next generation with the burden of a burning home.”
Rolles, 37, is a member of Christian Climate Action Australia.
In November last year, he spent several hours suspended in a bamboo tripod he had erected over a railway line used to transport coal to the Abbot Point terminal, about 200 kilometres (124 miles) south of Townsville in far north Queensland.
Abbot Point is owned by Adani, an Indian mining company, which is the focus of significant protest as it prepares to opena new coal mine that could affect the Great Barrier Reef, Arrested and charged with three counts including trespassing.
Rolles argued in court that his actions were permissible under the ‘extraordinary emergency’ defence, which says individuals are not criminally liable if they are acting in response to a sudden emergency. An oft-cited example would be shipwrecked sailors forced to eat the weakest crew member in order to survive.
The magistrate did not agree that the situation was an emergency. Rolles was found guilty, fined 7,000 Australian dollars ($4,810), and ordered to pay 2,233.40 Australian dollars to Aurizon, the country’s rail freight operator. Aurizon is now suing Rolles for 75,000 Australian dollars in damages.
But as climate protests become widespread, it is not just fines with which activists are being threatened.
Under new laws recently enacted in Queensland, people using so-called ‘dangerous devices’ – such as the lock-on devices that activists use to attach themselves to each other or to immovable objects such as fences and rail tracks – risk prison.
The law was developed after a series of disruptive Extinction Rebellion actions in Brisbane in mid-2019, in which more than 70 people were arrested and charged by police.