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Byron Shire
September 23, 2023

NSW government gets tough on climate dissenters

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The global climate systems are beginning to collapse before our eyes. The cause is humanity’s fossil fuel use. And yet, in a nation like Australia, the so-called leaders are refusing to take any action to prevent the crisis.

The major parties aren’t acting because they’re captured by the fossil fuel industry, meaning they rely on its donations, plus it’s their members’ future employer post-politics.

So, when you see those ministers talking about their children being their most important priority, they mean besides profiteering.

But it’s not only minister’s children who are facing a dire future. It’s the entire planet. And that’s why committed climate defenders are out staging disruptive protests in an effort to broaden public understanding, so the necessary changes are taken to curb what’s already underway.

Of late, climate groups Fireproof Australia and Blockade Australia have been going hard in getting the message across. And the Perrottet government did the only thing it knows how to do, enact heavier penalties. So, NSW now has some of the most draconian anti-protest laws on the planet.

Indeed, as climate scientist Dr Martin Wolterding stood before a magistrate on April 7 charged under the new laws, the 78-year-old mentioned he has a 5-month-old grandchild, and he likened his not attempting to provoke the authorities into climate action as a form of criminal negligence.

‘The government’s decision to utterly ignore the looming threat of economic collapse as the effects of climate change continue rolling over our country and around the world, simply defies belief,’ said Wolterding, a member of international climate group Scientist Rebellion (SR).

‘It is irrational and irresponsible to the point of insanity,’ the environmental scientist of 55 years told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. ‘Like a man refusing to leave his burning house, it defies even the instinct to survive.’

As a member of SR, Wolterding took part in a Fireproof Australia nonviolent direct action that entailed protesters blocking the City West Link Road in Lilyfield on April 6. And in response, NSW police sent in their newly formed Strike Force Guard, which specifically targets climate activists.

Wolterding was then arrested and taken down to the Glebe lockup to be held for 24 hours, before appearing at Newtown Local Court the following day.

The magistrate found the university lecturer of 40 years guilty on two counts and placed him on a community correction order (CCO).

‘Those of us who understand the situation, who cannot close our eyes and won’t be distracted by trivial, mundane issues, are treated as criminals or terrorists,’ Wolterding said.

In response to the recent onslaught of climate nonviolent direction actions being taken across Sydney, the Perrottet government passed a number of amendments creating anti-protest laws with such steep penalties they basically ban any form of protest the government doesn’t approve of.

NSW roads minister, Natalie Ward, commenced publicly calling for stricter penalties in relation to protests after a  March 14 Fireproof Australia nonviolent direct action brought morning peak hour traffic on the Spit Bridge to a standstill and the Liberal politician was subsequently late for work.

‘These protests are a real issue, not a trite or three-minute matter,’ the roads minister said, obviously not having quite gauged the extent of the inconvenience that the megafires and floods of recent years – that her party has failed to take action on – have caused those affected.

Wolterding was charged with disrupting or obstructing traffic on a road, contrary to section 144G of the Roads Act 1993 (NSW), which is a new law created on April 1 by amending a pre-existing law, which carries maximum penalties of up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of $22,000.

‘I’m afraid of how harshly my government might treat me for taking action,’ Wolterding said, in relation to the new offence sanctions he’ll now be facing.

‘But I understand the climate and biodiversity crises to be objective facts. So, I will not allow my fear of punishment to stop me.’

But this wasn’t the end of the saga for Wolterding. An old friend of his met him after his Local Court hearing and they both went to file an appeal of the outcome. Then, as it just happened to be pelting down with rain in Sydney, the doctor rushed over to his friend’s van, got in and they drove away.

It wasn’t for some minutes later into the drive before Wolterding heard a voice from behind and turned to see fellow arrestee, Jay Larbalestier, sitting in the back of the van.

While Wolterding had been unaware of Larbalestier’s presence up until this point, somehow Strike Force Guard was well aware of it, as by the time the van reached Glebe, it was pulled over.

And despite NSW law stipulating that after an appeal is filed any penalty under contention is stayed, meaning it’s delayed until after the challenge, the officers arrested the pair again and took them back to the cop shop to charge them with breaching their CCO. And Wolterding was then free to go.

The last three years of the Morrison government have been a time of multiple crises. It saw the end of the southeastern drought, the fires that burnt 20 per cent of forests to the ground, the onset of the pandemic, and now the ongoing unprecedented rainfalls and floods.

As Wolterding puts it, the climate crisis, which arguably was a factor in all of these crises, is ‘an apolitical problem’ and he’s reluctant to politicise it. But he then adds that the Liberal-Nationals coalition has definitely turned Australia into ‘a carbon state’.

Paul Gregoire.

Perrottet’s Protest Crackdown Won’t Halt 78-Year-old Scientist Climate Defender was first published at www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au.

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer.

He has a focus on social justice issues and encroachments upon civil liberties

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  1. Memo to NSW Government, you can’t legislate or fine your way out of climate science, global warming and global warming induced disasters that are being visited upon us.
    I’m thinking the government is fining the wrong entity.
    Instead fine the National Bushfire Apocalypse 2019/20 and the Flood Catastrophe 2022 for causing all the damage, pain and misery, it is outrageous that in 2022 we are being so inconvenienced by these acts.

  2. Below is the new legislation
    Schedule 1 Amendment of Roads Act 1993 No 33
    Schedule 1 makes it an offence with a maximum penalty of $22,000 or 2 years imprisonment, or
    both, if a person enters, remains on, climbs, jumps from or otherwise trespasses on a major road
    prescribed by the regulations if the conduct—
    (a) causes damage to the road, or
    (b) seriously disrupts or obstructs vehicles or pedestrians attempting to use the road.
    Schedule 2 Amendment of Crimes Act 1900 No 40
    Schedule 2 creates a new offence of damaging or disrupting a major facility with a maximum
    penalty of $22,000 or 2 years imprisonment, or both. A person commits the offence if the person
    enters, remains on or near, climbs, jumps from or otherwise trespasses on or blocks entry to any
    part of a major facility if that conduct—
    (a) causes damage to the major facility, or
    (b) seriously disrupts or obstructs persons attempting to use the major facility, or
    (c) causes the major facility, or part of the major facility, to be closed, or
    (d) causes persons attempting to use the major facility to be redirected.
    A major facility means the following—
    (a) the ports of Botany Bay, Newcastle and Port Kembla,
    (b) a railway station, public transport facility, port or infrastructure facility prescribed by the

  3. Greenies can’t protest and blame their way out of climate change.

    Government can’t fine or jail its way out of community concern and dissent.

    Both sides need to become more constructive.

    The one industry we can never abolish on environmental grounds is agriculture, and it will take a long time to reform (make sustainable) as plants grow on natural timeframes (at their own speed).

    So it needs to be the first addressed.

    The greenies need to be prepared to do agricultural work, to reform the agricultural systems (and to supply the extra labour hours to facilitate this – if not you, who?). If they were, they would be demanding suitable land for community-driven agriculture, not chanting slogans.

    The government needs to be prepared to make suitable land available for community-driven sustainable agriculture, and prepared to take money from unnecessary things (starting with motorways!) to fund this and subsidisation of sustainable agriculture for domestic consumption. If they were, they would.

    Both sides are failing dismally at this time

  4. Obviously the NSW government are the lowest of scum, and seek to vilify those wonderful citizens who rise above the mob to point out the crimes committed by government and industry in their pursuit of destroying the planet, and our children’s future for fun and profit.
    Look what they have done to Julian Asange for proving they’re committing war crimes.
    What a sick sad World ! G”)

  5. You have heard about Third World Dictatorships …. welcome to the Oz version. Only concerted public action can move despots …..


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