Controversial $22,000 fine for chaotic act on Sydney roads: 'Draconian'

Frustrated climate change protesters are accusing the NSW government of 'shooting the messenger' after proposing a $22,000 fine for action that blocks roads and railway lines.

NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole flagged his intention on Thursday after a string of climate change protests blocked roads and train lines.

The harsh penalty currently applies to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but it will likely be extended to cover major tunnels and bridges across Greater Sydney.

Protesters blocked Spit Bridge which spans across Middle Harbour in February. Source: FireProof Australia
Protesters blocked Spit Bridge which spans across Middle Harbour in February. Source: FireProof Australia

Mr Toole also indicated the NSW Liberal Government would seek to increase penalties for protesters who block roads, industrial and transport facilities.

“The penalties currently in place have clearly not deterred protestors who continue to block roads across Sydney, disrupting transport networks, freight chains, production lines and everyday commuters getting to work or to school – and it can’t keep happening,” he said in a statement.

“Unauthorised protests have no place in our State, and these tighter laws and tougher penalties we’re introducing prove we have zero tolerance for this selfish, disruptive and unruly behaviour."

'Draconian': Greenpeace hits out at new $22,000 fine

The announcement has been slammed by conservation groups including Greenpeace who said the laws have been "rushed" in as a "knee-jerk response".

General counsel Katrina Bullock characterised the decision as the "latest in a suite of increasingly draconian regulatory measures" aimed at restricting climate activism.

"Governments have a positive duty to facilitate peaceful protest under international human rights law, including by ensuring people are not prevented from exercising their protest rights by other groups or private companies," she said.

"Governments must also ensure that any restrictions on protest action are limited to what is strictly necessary and proportionate in pursuit of a legitimate purpose."

Climate protests disrupt Sydney's roads and ports

The fines were one of two major announcements Mr Toole made today to combat climate change activists.

A new police strike force will be charged with proactively stopping "unauthorised protests" across NSW, targeting those involved in the "planning and facilitation" of disruptions.

Left - an aerial shot of traffic backed up. Right - a protester on train lines this morning.
Protesters have shut down roads and blocked trainlines this month. Source: Nine News / Blockade Australia

The clampdown comes after Sydney’s Port Botany was shut down five times in three days by activist group Blockade Australia, who accused the nation of being a “climate vandal”.

They said the site was targeted as it is a “major container port and fuel import facility” which is “critical” to Australia’s economy.

Those involved in the protests come from a wide variety of backgrounds, with a psychologist and a preschool teacher involved in action at Port Botany on Wednesday.

On Thursday, a Queensland man suspended himself nine metres above train lines to stop containers leaving Port Botany as part of Blockade Australia's ongoing action.

These events follow an unrelated protest by activist group FireProof Australia which blocked Spit Bridge in Sydney’s northern suburbs.

Activists claim climate change more disruptive than protests

Responding to the new penalties protesters could face, Clancey from Blockade Australia told Yahoo News Australia the group are simply trying to draw attention to the climate crisis, but instead it's "the messenger who gets shot".

"The chaos and the disruption, both financial and also to people's lives, is actually already happening in swathes on this continent," she said.

"There's no escaping the impacts of it. People already are suffering and we've already had over a dozen deaths this year, because of climate change induced extreme weather events."

Clancey said she believes most Australians respond to social justice issues like climate change in a "passive" way, thinking they can have their say every four years at the ballot box, or comment on social media.

"Many people don't understand that resistance is an active thing, you have to push back against the thing that is incorrect," she said.

"(They) know about the climate crisis, but what they don't recognise is change won't happen from acting politely."

As Australia continues to be impacted by extreme weather, climate crisis protesters who interrupt traffic could soon face a $22,000 fine. Source: AAP
As Australia continues to be impacted by extreme weather, climate crisis protesters who interrupt traffic could soon face a $22,000 fine. Source: AAP

Minister cancels climate protesters' visas

On Thursday, Federal Immigration Minister Alex Hawk announced he would extend the same powers used to cancel the visa of unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic on two German climate protesters.

German nationals Henrik Bonde (23) and his brother Jelle Bonde were involved in Blockade Australia's Port Botany action this week, hanging a banner which read "No nations, no borders, stop Australia's operation".

“Families going about their business, driving to school or work, do not deserve to be disrupted by the attention-seeking stunts of unlawful protesters," Mr Hawk said.

"Australians expect guests in our country to comply with our laws. Under the Morrison Government, non-citizens who violate our laws will be considered for visa cancellation."

Concern about Australia's climate record

Despite Australia agreeing to reach net zero emissions by 2050, international condemnation of the Commonwealth’s support of fossil fuels continues.

This week, the nation’s ongoing embrace of climate action was singled out for criticism this week by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Last year UNESCO announced an intention to list the Great Barrier Reef as "in danger" after a series of coral bleaching events, before the Federal Government successfully campaigned to have the statement quashed.

On Wednesday, former defence leaders published a full-page advertisement in The Australian newspaper warning that "climate change now represents the greatest threat to the future and security of Australians".

This morning 31 councillors and mayors from around Australia issued a statement calling on the Federal Government to do more to address the climate crisis as communities continue to struggle from the impact of extreme weather.

Responding to a question about protesters right to be heard, Deputy Premier Paul Toole said they could do so without causing economic disruption, Nine News reported.

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