Friday, May 15, 2015

Reflections on my five minutes in court (protesting Earth poisoning)



On March 12, 2015 I faced the magistrate in a courtroom in Sydney, at the Downing Centre. My original maximum penalty was 7 years in jail, and the NSW police charge sheet also stated that the Maules Ck coal mine (Whitehaven) would be paid at least $40,000 by me to compensate their loss from me delaying two trucks, each carrying about 40 tonnes of coal, for 50 minutes. This charge was reduced to one with a maximum penalty of two years in jail, and a maximum fine of $5,500. There was no further mention of the $40,000.

The magistrate, more familiar with drug offenders, appeared to have not heard of civil disobedience in defence of the public good, in this case avoiding dangerous, even catastrophic climate change. If she had any sympathy to the concept of civil disobedience, she was not letting on.

I did not read my planned statement (which included a mention of written warnings to coal companies issued several years ago by some of Australia's most senior climate scientists). If I had tried it would have risked extreme irritation. She seemed irritated enough! She was very business-like. I thought she was quite skilful and even compassionate towards some of the people who appeared before her, especially the drug dealers and drunken drivers who represented themselves. But I don't think she had much experience with political protesters.

In the end I was found guilty, but no sentence was recorded. This may have been helped by the three character references I had, but that was hard to tell, as it was all so quick she could only have skimmed them. She mis-read my date of birth by 20 years (younger!)

I was given a two year good behaviour bond. I was not fined, I only paid modest court costs. I am very grateful to my Environmental Defenders' Office lawyer.

Three days after my five minutes of magistrate attention, I attended the iDEA meeting, the student-run meeting of Drs for the Environment, Australia. During it, a NSW politician called Rob Stokes spoke, in defence of coal exports. He claimed that Australians need to sell coal to promote India's development. 

I wanted to tell him about the NSW police, and also to state that India does not need Australian coal; they have their own, or can buy it from Indonesia etc. The true motive for Australian coal sellers is profit, and it is immoral. Alas, the chair seemed to choose to not to give me this chance to speak. I rather think she thought my remarks might introduce unnecessary rancour at a public forum. But I think she was too deferential.

Meantime, Australia's coal frenzy deepens and worsens, and so does the likelihood of stranded assets. The Guardian has taken to calling this Australia's carbon bomb. David Pratt's new report on the illusion that 2 degrees of warming is safe, called "Recount: It's time to do the math again" makes me feel very glad I took my stand - but at the same time it's not enough. Yet, given the aggression of the state, how can I recommend what I did to others?