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Byron Shire
May 20, 2024

Freedom to protest needs to be protected as environmental activists targeted

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The Terania Creek Protest 1979. Photo David Kemp.

The forests of the Northern Rivers were protected in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s by activism. The Terania Creek protest was a landmark environmental protest and was the first time citizens physically defended a rainforest by placing themselves in front of police and loggers. In 1982 following the Mt Nardi protests ‘the NSW Cabinet made their historic Rainforest Decision, creating or expanding the Nightcap, Border Ranges, Washpool, Dorrigo, New England, Werrikimbe, and Barrington Tops national parks, creating Mount Seaview and Mt Hyland nature reserves, and the Murray Scrub, Sandy Creek, and Cambridge Plateau flora reserves.’

The Rainforest Decision was the culmination of over a decade of campaigning that primarily gained public recognition and support through forest blockades at Terania Creek in 1979 and Mount Nardi in 1982. Photo supplied

Without protest and direct action many of these areas would have been logged, and lost, and would not be available to the public, the endangered species habitat would not have been preserved. 

Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco being arrested.

Yet the NSW coalition government joined forces with Labor to put in place draconian legislation that targets environmental activists in particular. This saw the jailing and sentencing of Violet Coco to 15 months of prison time for protesting on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Cherish Kuehlmann was arrested in the middle of the night by NSW police for protesting rising costs of living, and long-time forest protester Susie Russell was singled out, charged and placed on restrictive bail conditions for being in a public forest area last month. 

Hearts and other artivism at Bentley Blockade. Photo Marie Cameron.

Protecting the right to protest

Today The Greens unveiled plans for legislative changes that will unravel the state’s anti-protest regime and protect the important right to protest in NSW. 

Greens MP, environmental lawyer and long-time forest activist Sue Higginson has committed to repealing anti-protest laws brought in by the Liberal National Coalition since 2014. Anti-protest laws have created new offences such as aggravated trespass on a business property, dramatically increased police powers and resulted in unprecedented sentencing that is aimed at quashing the democratic right to protest and silencing dissent. The Government in lock step with the Labor opposition brought in the most recent tranche of anti-protest laws last year as climate group Blockade Australia ramped up protest activity in Sydney to raise awareness about the climate crisis. Under those laws non-violent protesters could be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 2 years and or fined $22,000 simply for blocking a road.

‘In the early 1990s I locked on to a bulldozer to stop the destruction of an old growth forest. That forest is now protected under the law. Back then I didn’t face the risk of serving prison time. In fact, I went on to become a lawyer and worked with communities to prevent the destruction of our environment and hold governments and corporations to account under the law,’ said Ms Higginson.

Photo David Lowe.
Thousands of people at Gate A, Bentley Blockade, in April 2014.

Protected Bentley

Adam Guise, who is running for the seat of Lismore said, ‘We have a long and proud history of protesting against unjust laws. We have protested to protect our ancient Gondwana rainforests, to give First Nations people and women the right to vote, uphold workplace rights, and change harsh drug prohibition laws. 

‘Thousands of us engaged in non-violent civil disobedience in the Bentley Blockade and Gasfield Free campaign to stop the toxic coal seam gas invasion of our beautiful region. We know too well the important part disruption plays when engaging in civil disobedience. That is how social change is created.’

Ian Cohen surfing the nose of a nuclear armed warship. Photos Robert Pearce

Erosion of rights

‘The deliberate erosion of our fundamental democratic right to protest that we have seen over the last decade is frankly alarming,’ said Ms Higginson. 

‘I am here to reverse these laws as an MP. Protest is a critical mechanism to drive progress or prevent destructive policies from occuring in our environment and communities. There are so many important reforms throughout history that have only been possible because people have taken to the streets and the forests to draw attention to issues.  

‘Non-violent direct action and protest has led to the protection of our world heritage forests and national parks, equal rights for women, some rights for First Nations people, minimum pay and conditions and has stopped the destruction of many places from development.’

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  1. The tree hugging 1970s forest protests also were the trigger to bring in a huge change in political governance -In the 1970s no government in the world had an Environmental Minister (they all had Resource ministers whose roles were to exploit resources). Also there were no Environmental protection legislation – a proposal back then that any tree needed a Council Consent to be cut down would have been met with hilarity. In the short 50 years since then, all Govts have moved to, at least, acknowledging the need for environmental protection, and have rolled out Legislation. But we now need the next push, as the powers to be, both Govts and Business , have worked out how to address legislation, whether by criminalising protest, or by tick the box (non)compliance, but the need is now even more urgent.

    • Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted National Parks in the US copying Australia who started in 1879. Hittler instituted animal cruelty laws and protections for native species, however restrictions had started in England from at least 1463. In classical history, The Romans and Greeks had restrictions that varied over time. Throughout the 1800s England, industrial waste disposal was a big topic, and the introduction of sewerage systems was actually to protect the rivers and water ways, not the people. That’s all I can remember off the top of my head but there was plenty more.

      So no. You didn’t invent environmentalist. You would have to read the minutes of the Club of Roma meeting to see what your movement was actually created for.

    • John, “,In the 1970s no government in the world had an Environmental Minister (they all had Resource ministers whose roles were to exploit resources)”, not quite correct here in Australia;

      Peter Howson, in the Billy McMahon Federal Liberal Government, was Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts – 10 March 1971 to 5 December 1972, who handed over the ‘Environment’ Minister baton to-
      The Great Man himself, Edward Gough Whitlam was Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts – 5 December 1972 to 19 December 1972, who handed over the ‘Environment’ Minister baton to –
      Moses ( Moss ) Cass was Minister for the Environment and Conservation -19 December 1972 to 21 April 1975 ( please note the change in Ministry title ), who handed over the ‘Environment’ Minister baton to –

      James ( Jim ) Cairns was Minister for the Environment – 21 April 1975 to 2 July 1975 .
      The significance of which is for the first time, ‘Environment’ is a stand alone Federal Ministry.

  2. Look at all those baby boomers, more interested in saving the planet than their current reputation might suggest.

    • The National Socialists of Germany also thought they needed to save the world. Read up on the ‘Shrinking Markets Theory’. They were pretty sure most of the worlds population would starve to death if they didn’t do what they did. The Boomers thought the theories of Dr Spock were a good idea, inter alia.

  3. Spock’s book “ The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” was published in 1946 so I’d suggest that whatever following he had would have been in the boomers’ parents’ generation.

    I haven’t read it, nor do I know anyone who has, so I can’t comment on the merits of its advice. Don’t be too unkind, every generation has its own belief system that those who follow ridicule. How a current generation of 30-50 year olds will be judged for their steadfast adherence to a few nutters on the interweb is anybody’s guess.

    There seems a bit of extraneous detail here – from Germans, “Shrinking Markets Theory” to Benjamin Spock. Do you have any response in particular to what I actually wrote?

    Did you understand the point at all?

    • You seem to be pointing out that millennials mistakenly think boomers aren’t as brainwashed as they are, while you exulted the virtues of being an old hippy. I’m pointing out that hell is full of good intentions.

  4. Can’t see where I “ exulted the virtues of being an old hippy” but just noting some evidence against the notion that all those who came before the millennials didn’t give a flying 🤬about the future they were leaving them.

    But you do like to put your own bias on things.

    • When the boomers were young, the green movement was led by the hippies.
      You are conflating the silent generation and greatest generation with the boomers, just as the people you are counter signalling allegedly do. The silent and greatest generations fought and died for their children’s future. I further pointed out that the intentions of this group of boomers are quite different to the outcome of their avocation, and I gave an example of when they had done this before with disastrous results. I’m not sure where your confusion is arising, my words are not that esoteric.


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