The local environment centre remained distanced from protestors who blocked coal trains heading for Newcastle for several days.
After two weeks of disruptions by Blockade Australia, officers arrived at Hunter Valley Environment Centre on Friday last month with a warrant for the search of the premises and a nearby sharedhouse.
It is not clear how the Hunter environment center was caught up in the raids that saw 19 people arrested. New South Wales police were formed days before. Strike Force TuohyMobilization of police resources normally reserved for organised crime groups like outlaw motorcycle gangs to target disruptive demonstrators.
Were there collateral damages, Georgina woods, a member on the organising committee for the centres, said.
The centres were established in NSW’s coal country in 2004 and focus on awareness and fact-finding about water pollution and monitoring of abandoned power plants.
It seems absurd to us. Woods claims that they raided the local environment center in response to protests that had been going on for a few weeks.
This is the latest example in a growing climate of repression that environmental activists in Australia have been described by civil society groups.
Although the evidence is mostly anecdotal in nature, a report last week by Greenpeace Australia Pacific, the Human Rights Law Centre, and the Environmental Defenders Office highlighted the alarming trend of heavy police tactics and punitive bail conditions combined with private lawsuits, anti-protest laws, and inflammatory rhetoric from politicians and business leaders.
Yusur Al-Azzawi is a senior lawyer at Human Rights Law Centre who co-authored this report. He says that there has not been one turning point but that the hostility towards climate protests has increased over the past few years.
Al-Azzawi explains that climate defenders face harassment, intimidation, and prosecution simply for calling for action to combat climate change. It is not just a few isolated incidents that are frightening. We are referring to a systematic and broad-ranging attack.
Other civil society groups voice similar concerns. Eight groups, including 350.org, Australia Youth Climate Coalition and Wilderness Society, released a statement on Monday calling out the Australian authorities’ treatment of protestors.
Nikita White, a campaigner for Amnesty International, claims that police tactics against environmental activists have become more aggressive over the past few years.
White stated that the raid on Hunter Community Environment Centre in Newcastle last week reminded me of the attacks Amnesty witnesses all over the world on activists/human rights defenders. In an effort to crack down on dissent, governments raid their offices and their homes.
I believe that the purpose of this is to silence dissent and stop people from protesting.
The chalk paint investigation
A spokesperson for NSW police said that it respects peaceful protests but would not answer specific questions regarding why the centre was targeted.
According to a spokesperson, the NSW police force supports peaceful protests by individuals and groups. Anyone who engages in unauthorised protest activities or violates the law will be dealt with accordingly.
The police crackdown on climate activism has not been the only recent example of a raid against the centre.
Eric Serge Herbert, 22, was sentenced to 12 month imprisonment last week for his role in the blockade of the Port of Newcastle.
Three protesters blocked the only road from Western Australia to the Burrup Peninsula, where gas industry operates in Pilbara. They were placed under strict bail conditions and prohibited from interacting with a police-identified list of activists. Although they drove together, two of them had to fly home because they were not allowed in the same vehicle.
Police raided the Perth homes of six Extinction Rebellion activists on August 1st amid allegations that they had sprayed graffiti on a pedestrian bridge with washable chalk paint, just a few meters from Woodsides headquarters. The graffiti was part of a protest against the Scarborough gas project, which is a major fossil fuel company.
Kelly Hawes says that the police did not do anything at that time. She was therefore surprised when officers with the state security group raided her home in early morning just two weeks later.
They were actually antiterrorism cops. Hawes claims it was chalk paint. They filled my home. They were all massive, stout officers who were standing around in my tiny apartment.
Court summons would be used to deal with minor offenses such as this. Hawes states that even though she agreed to Extinction Rebellion, she was actually arrested.
The WA police were contacted, but they did not respond to publication.
It will only get more intense
Protest and environmental protests have been a political lightning rod for Australia for a long time. Authorities are often antagonistic to protestors, but some argue that climate change protests pose a unique threat.
Asio has been actively Monitoring anti-coalmining activistsTheir interest dates back to 1972, when the Australian intelligence agency first recognized the risks posed due to climate change. According to an 1981 Office of National Assessment report, environmental groups could mobilize as climate science was sensationalized by the media. Their main concern was the implications for fossil fuel exports.
This concern is still a top priority for the government. Barnaby Joyce, deputy prime Minister, was arrested days before the raid on Hunter Environment Centre. Reporters were told during a stop at SingletonProtesters caused disruptions in the flow of coal to Newcastle Port, costing $60 million
Joyce said that they could find other ways for the nation to make money right now. In the meantime, we have to make money.
Simon Rice, a professor of social justice and law at the University of Sydney says that climate change protests stand out from other movements such as Black Lives Matter and the recent anti lockdown protests.
Rice claims that climate change protests are a threat to the current state’s source of power, which is fossil fuel exports. Climate change is pushing all those buttons.
Rice was an observer at a University of Sydney student rally last October when he became involved in this. He was shoved to the ground by police, and was fined $1,000.
Rice claims that protesters will become more determined to target businesses they believe are responsible as climate change worsens. This will lead to a more aggressive response by law enforcement and political officials who feel pressured.
Rice predicts that it will escalate. The government is more willing to use the power they have with greater confidence and less discretion than ever before.
Dr Kristy Cameron, a Charles Sturt University lecturer on terrorism studies, says that although authorities have been wary of eco-terrorism’s threat since the 90s in the US, it has mostly proven to be a hoax.
Campion states that one of the things that I find most frustrating is the idea that it all stems from leftwing hippies who have escalated to the point where militancy. Yes, there is a potential for terrorist violence to be manifested in the environment if there is enough concern, but it’s not from the left.
Campion states that while most radical environmental groups limit their activities to non-violent direct actions where property is damaged, but not white nationalist groups who are more comfortable with violence, they have been lifting environmentalist language.
Campion said that this threat should still be monitored. However, Campion stated that the golden rule for law enforcement officials and governments should be to ensure that any response is proportional to the threat.
She said that chalk art on the sidewalk can be a fundamentally different issue to a bomber planting in public places than graffiti. You will only promote more resentful reactions if you don’t give people the right to dissent from you.