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Heavy Fines

Fourteen activists who appeared in the Bowen Magistrates Court today have been fined a total of $79,500 after taking nonviolent direct action to stop coal reaching, or leaving, Adani-owned Abbot Point Coal Terminal.

The heavy fines, imposed on mostly 'first time offenders', many of whom are on low incomes, far outweigh fines imposed for similar actions in other states. Environmental activists typically receive fines well under $1000, reflecting the nonviolent nature of their actions. 

Adani itself was fined only $12 000 for polluting the Caley Wetlands, which the company has refused to pay.

The almost $80 000 meted out to the Abbot Point Lock on Crew looks set to become a rallying point for the Stop Adani campaign, as the broader movement mobilises to support the activists who shut down Abbot Point.

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The Details

Nathan Bernfield and Lilli Barto were charged with interference with a railway, trespass on a railway and contravening a police direction after they locked their arms into a concrete barrel placed across the Aurizon-owned railway to Abbot Point. Ms Barto was fined $2500 and Mr Bernfield was fined $3000, with no conviction recorded against either activist.

Anna Hush and Gareth Davies faced the same charges for an action in which they scaled a stationary coal train leading to Abbot Point and hung a banner from the train. Ms Hush and Mr Davies were fined $1000 each, with no conviction recorded.

The magistrate, Simon Young, noted that each of the activists had made substantial contributions to the community through their volunteer work, and that their ‘commitment to social justice’ enhanced their communities. Magistrate Young said that while the activists showed great insight into the issues surrounding fossil fuel expansions, ‘civil disobedience’ was not the only option available to them, and that their protests had crossed the line of ‘acceptable protest’. He praised the intelligence and character of the group, and affirmed their right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to protest.

Ten further cases were heard involving two separate shut downs of the Abbot Point Coal Terminal, one on the 11th of January and one on the 18th of January. In each case, a group of five activists locked themselves on to conveyors at the Port, causing the port to cease operations for almost eight hours. In each case, a penalty of $8000 was imposed. 

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The coal pushers

At around 12.45pm, maverick MP George Christensen made a surprise appearance in the court room. Mr Christensen did not bow to the magistrate, nor did he take a seat in the courtroom, contrary to the court procedures. As Mr Christensen left court, locals questioned him about the appropriateness of his appearance in a court of law, given his violent statements towards ‘greenie punks’.

In a further controversial aspect of today’s hearing, Adani submitted a memo to the court seeking restitution of close to eight million dollars arising from the port disruptions, claiming a loss of earnings. Magistrate Young questioned the accuracy of these figures, calling them ‘grossly exaggerated’, and dismissed the restitution claims.

Making History

The activists charged with interfering with a port made history today, as the charge has never been heard in an Australian court before. The proceedings mark a legal precedent, setting a benchmark for future cases heard under the legislation, with fines of $8000 imposed against each defendant.

 “We are facing a climate emergency. We cannot stand by and allow these giant corporations to continue putting our future at risk by mining, exporting and burning coal. It is time to act together to secure a safe climate for all of us, and that is what has brought us here today”, said Liisa Rusamen, a mother of two from coastal town Coffs Harbour.

“To allow Adani to open up the Galilee coal field would be unconscionable” said Coffs Harbour nurseryman John Ross. “Our future wellbeing depends upon a rapid transition to renewable energy. In facing court today, I know that the global majority are with me: it’s time to end coal”

Frontline Action on Coal has declared the actions a great success at slowing the progress of climate destruction fuelled by Australian coal exports. Together with the broader campaign to Stop Adani, the activists on the ground in the Galilee have asserted their commitment to a just transition to renewable energy.

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Frontline Action on Coal recognises indigenous sovereignty over Australian lands and waters.