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Blockade Australia plans more climate protests disrupting Newcastle trains, saying disobedience is the only option
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Blockade Australia plans more climate protests disrupting Newcastle trains, saying disobedience is the only option

It was right on sunrise when Ian Fox, 67, began dangling above a busy railway on a cold Newcastle morning.

The South Australian hadn’t been in the Hunter for long before he suspended himself above the train lines on 25 June. As he hung there, a sign was unfurled below him that said: “Survival depends on non-compliance.”

While New South Wales police acted swiftly to end his action, it was just the start of a rolling series of protests that has seen at least 26 people arrested – and more than 200 passenger trains cancelled – over a two-week period.

Planned by Blockade Australia, whose protest at a major port in Sydney in 2022 prompted the NSW government to introduce new anti-protest laws, the group says the daily climate protests are calling for change at the heart of the issue.

“We are drawing focus on the political and economic system of this continent … we believe that is the core of the problem,” says Brad Homewood, a spokesperson for Blockade Australia.

“Even the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] has called out capitalism and colonialism as the major drivers of the climate and ecological crisis, and we just don’t hear enough of that. We certainly don’t hear it from any politicians, and we don’t hear it from a lot of other climate groups.”

The IPCC’s sixth report, released in 2022, included colonialism as one factor that increased the vulnerability of some groups to the effects of climate change.

A train in the Newcastle area View image in fullscreen

Homewood says Newcastle was decided as the focus area for the actions because it’s a key economic “pinch point”.

“Obviously, it’s the world’s largest coal port, but it doesn’t just deal with coal. It’s a major economic pinch point, and we believe that’s one of the weaknesses in the system.”

The actions, which have included people standing atop trains and hanging suspended above the railway lines, is drawing a fierce backlash from the government.

The police minister, Yasmin Catley, says the actions are “reckless” and have no place in NSW. “This dangerous behaviour is putting not only the lives of workers and the public at risk, but the police officers tasked to respond.”

The Australian Rail Track Corporation confirmed on Thursday that 200 passenger trains had been cancelled since the protests began, and condemned the actions as “illegal and dangerous”.

Police have also sent additional resources to the region after it established Strike Force Tuohy to investigate the protest activity.

Anti-protest laws ‘just hardened resolve’

The protests have attracted a number of people from interstate.

Fox travelled from South Australia to take part as he says he is frustrated by the government continuing to approve fossil fuel projects.

“The system we are living under is not going to take the action we need on the climate catastrophe,” Fox says. “I’m prepared to step in front of that system and say enough.

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“I can’t see any other option but to engage in civil disobedience.”

Blockade Australia member Ian Fox suspended above train lines last monthView image in fullscreen

After dangling for nearly four hours above the railway tracks, Fox was removed by police. He later plead guilty to trespassing and stopping a locomotive, and was fined $750.

Homewood wouldn’t say when the protests are due to end, but says there are “more actions to come”.

Each day has seen multiple new actions. On day two, a woman climbed on top of a train and unfurled a sign that said “the system has no answers” and “take action against ecocide”.

On day 11, a woman strung herself up on a railway bridge.

Homewood says most of those arrested have faced fines of between $750 and $1,500, and have not been subject to the harsh penalties under NSW’s anti-protest laws.

Brad Homewood and fellow Blockade Australia activist Munro MonroeView image in fullscreen

The laws, supported by Labor while in opposition but now under review by the government, can see protesters who block major facilities – such as railways, ports, transport facilities or infrastructure – face a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and $22,000 in fines.

Last December, the NSW supreme court found that parts of the anti-protest laws are unconstitutional because they infringe on the implied freedom of political communication.

The laws have been criticised as a kneejerk reaction to protests Blockade Australia carried out in 2022 around Sydney’s Port Botany.

Homewood says the laws had acted as a deterrent for some, but not for all.

“For other people it has just hardened their resolve and made them more determined because this is what we expected the state to do.”

Source: theguardian.com