Australian "kayaktivists" block the Newcastle Coal port

Australian "kayaktivists" blockade the coal port at Newcastle, New South Wales on November 26, 2023.

(Photo: Lee Illfield/Rising Tide Australia)

109 Aussie Kayaktivists Charged for Blocking World's Largest Coal Port

"World leaders attending COP28 this week should take note that the mass protest in New South Wales is not an isolated incident but part of a global pushback for change now," said one campaigner.

More than 100 climate defenders were charged Monday in New South Wales, Australia after using kayaks or swimming to blockade the coal port at Newcastle—the world's largest—to demand an end to fossil fuels as petrostate United Arab Emirates prepares to host the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this week.

New South Wales police said 109 people were arrested after paddling kayaks or swimming into the shipping lane servicing coal cargo at the Port of Newcastle during a 30-hour protest on Saturday and Sunday. The arrested activists were all charged with operating a vessel so as to interfere with others' use of waters.

The climate action group Rising Tide Australia, which led the action, said it would keep holding protests until federal and state governments take meaningful climate action.

"That's the choice we are giving government, either do your job and take on the industry that's causing the crisis, or people will continue to put themselves in situations like this," Rising Tide spokesperson Zack Schofield told ABC Newcastle.

Among those arrested was 97-year-old church minister Alan Stuart, who told SBS News that he engaged in civil disobedience "for my grandchildren and for future generations because I don't want to leave them with a world full of increasingly severe, frequent national disasters because of climate change."

Anjali Beames, an activist with the School Strike for Climate movement started in Sweden by Greta Thunberg, was also arrested.

"My future is getting sold by the fossil fuel industry for profit, and I'm not going to sit idly by while that happens, it's the Australian government's failure to act," Beames told SBS News.

"We know that the climate crisis is here and now, and if there's any hope of mitigating the consequences and saving people's lives, we have to stop new fossil fuel projects, and that includes new coal," she added.

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) said several of the group's legal observers were arrested and charged along with the protesters. The group said its personnel "were easily identifiable by wearing pink high-visibility jackets with 'Legal Observers' written across the vest in large black letters."

NSWCCL president Lydia Shelly said that "the charges against the legal observers should be immediately withdrawn."

"It is not in the public interest for these charges to proceed," Shelly added. "If the charges are not withdrawn, it risks sending a dangerous message to the public that NSW police do not want their interactions or conduct with peaceful protestors monitored by independent organizations."

Referring to the U.N. Climate Change Conference slated to start Thursday in Dubai, Amnesty International Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said in a statement Monday that "while it is deeply discouraging to see this kind of outcome after peaceful protests on the climate crisis days before COP28, it is also hugely inspiring to see the creativity, ingenuity, and solidarity of the protesters who took to kayaks to oppose climate inaction."

"World leaders attending COP28 this week should take note that the mass protest in New South Wales is not an isolated incident but part of a global pushback for change now," Schuetze continued. "People will not stay silent when climate upheaval threatens their futures."

New South Wales Premier Chris Minns of the center-left Labor Party dismissed the protesters' climate concerns, noting on Monday that "not only is the extraction and sale and export of minerals in NSW legal, it's our single biggest export."

"If we don't take some of the royalties from coal export, we will not meet our renewable energy targets in NSW," Minns added. "We won't even come close."

Alexa Stuart, an organizer of the protest and Alan Stuart's granddaughter, told SBS News that the Australian government's climate inaction forced climate campaigners' hands.

"We wish we did not have to do this but the Albanese government needs to understand we are serious," she said, referring to Labor Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, a supporter of Australia's nearly U.S. $40 billion coal industry.

"If Australia today said we are not going to export any more coal, [it] wouldn't lead to a reduction in global emissions," Albanese said last year, rejecting Australian Greens' calls for a fossil fuel export moratorium. "What you would see is a replacement with coal from other countries that's likely to produce higher emissions… because of the quality of the product."

Still, Australian Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen claims the government's COP28 delegation will bring to Dubai evidence proving the country is on track to meet its target of a 43% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

Kelly O'Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, toldThe Guardian on Saturday that "the Albanese government is taking genuine steps to reduce carbon emissions at home, while enabling the increased and indefinite export of coal and gas to other countries."

"It doesn't matter where the coal and gas is burnt," O'Shanassy added. "Australian fossil fuels are supercharging climate damage, fueling heatwaves, bushfires, and coral bleaching."

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