One of the greatest benefits of our democracy is the right to peaceful protest, which has been beneficial for the environment, and society as a whole.
Without protest action by people going outside their comfort zone to take a principled stand, local wilderness areas like the World Heritage listed Gondwanan rainforests of the Washpool and Nightcap would have been destroyed. It was also peaceful protest, and a passionate display of ‘people-power’, that prevented gas fields from proliferating across the Northern Rivers.
However, the NSW government recently succumbed to corporate pressure, and introduced what can only be described as draconian legislation that can see protesters jailed for exercising their democratic right to protest.
This legislation has been strongly criticised by eminent organisations including the Civil Liberties Council, the Environmental Defenders Office, and the Human Rights Law Society, but the government has pushed it through regardless.
In an impassioned speech to parliament, newly elected Greens MP, Sue Higginson, explained that “protest is fundamental to democracy”, and the fact that the opinions and advice of those organisations can be ignored by the government, indicates that “something is going incredibly wrong”. Ms Higginson who, as the former principal solicitor with the Environmental Defenders Office, described protesters she has known, and defended in court, as “incredibly brave” individuals who have participated in civil disobedience “at significant detriment and compromise to their own lives”.
It seems that some in the legal fraternity agree, as indicated by all charges being dismissed for forest ‘protectors’, known as the Cherry Tree Four, for blocking access to the Cherry Tree state forest against loggers late last year.
The group’s lawyer said, “the Magistrate accepted that we were living in a climate crisis and agreed that these climate change warriors were just trying to protect endangered and threatened species from death by Forestry Corp logging in Cherry Tree State Forest”. Summing up, he said, "These warriors of the forest, who are held in high regard and seen as leaders in our community, should never have been dragged to court”.
- John Edwards
Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent ,July 13, 2022.