Forest Defenders Face Court After Protest in Wild Cattle Creek State Forest

Supporters of the forest defenders rally outside the court. Photo: supplied by the Gumbaynggirr Conservation Group.

 

ON 7 October, four ‘forest defenders’ faced charges and fines of up to $5,500 related to protests against logging in the Wild Cattle Creek State Forest.

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Ms Maddie Stephenson, Mr Neville Kirk and Mr Huon Hannaford pleaded guilty to the offences of ‘Hide tools/clothes/property to unlawfully influence person’ and ‘Fail to leave area on being requested by authorised officer’.

Ms Tia Latif pleaded guilty to the offence of ‘Unlawfully enter inclosed non-agricultural lands interfere with conduct of business’.

The first charge was related to the three defendants locking themselves on to machinery to prevent it being operated.

The magistrate heard that the defendants received no personal gain from their actions and were motivated to protect the forest for the public interest.

They felt that recent bushfires made it more important to protect unburnt forests.

Ms. Sue Higginson, the solicitor representing the defendants said, “It doesn’t seem to matter how many letters are written or how many legal protests are held but logging continues, despite the need to protect wildlife habitat and that the science is clear that forests are needed to mitigate climate change.”

In court, Ms. Higginson referred to a precedent under Queensland law that referenced a quote from a House of Lords case that said, in part, ‘People who break the law to affirm their belief in the injustice of a law or government action are sometimes vindicated by history’.

She also asked the magistrate to consider that much of what is now part of the national estate and our valuable world heritage properties in NSW came about through civil disobedience.

“The magistrate made reference to ill-informed information in the media about climate change which is contrary to the science,” said Ms Higginson.

The magistrate made it clear that, while he understood the protesters’ moral stance, they acted deliberately so there needed to be a strong deterrent.

There is provision under NSW sentencing laws for first-time offenders who plead guilty early for the magistrate to not record a conviction.

Ms. Stephenson was given an 18-month good behaviour bond while Mr. Hannaford and Ms. Latif received 15-month bonds, without convictions.

The magistrate recognised that Mr. Kirk, an Aboriginal man, is a deeply cultural man who feels a strong connection to the land and was invited by Gumbaynggirr elders to protect it.

He said he feels compelled to keep protecting it.

When the magistrate offered an 18-month good behaviour bond, Mr. Kirk indicated that he might still need to take action if needed.

He was convicted and fined $750.

Ms. Stephenson said she believed she could continue to contribute to the campaign in ways that didn’t breach her good behaviour bond.

“It’s unfair for activists to be prosecuted and placed on good behaviour bonds because we are actually helping the community’, she said.

“We feel obligated to protect the land from being destroyed and protect it for future generations.

“We are not against logging, but we are against cutting down 80-year old trees in publicly-owned forests that will never grow back the same way”.

 

By Andrew VIVIAN

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