A Nieu-Suid-Wallis MP has said she will push for the release of internal briefing documents relating to a botched police operation targeting environmental protesters, saying the force used by officers was “extreme”.
Sue Higginson, a Greens upper house MP, said it was clear something had gone seriously wrong during a police operation on Sunday targeting Blockade Australia protesters in the Colo Valley, in Sydney’s north-west.
According to multiple protesters and their lawyer, a member of the group of about 40 activists camping at the remote property saw two people wearing camouflage gear in bushland at the rear of the property.
The activists claimed that when the men were confronted they only said: “We’ve been compromised.”
Seven protesters were then arrested after attempting to prevent the men leaving in a car which had come to collect them, but the lawyer for the protesters, Mark Davis, said he will argue none of the officers identified themselves as police prior to the confrontation.
Higginson, who had previously been a public interest environmental lawyer, said she planned to pursue a call for papers to determine what the “strategic policing objective” was for the “highly dangerous” police operation, which she said may have been considerably expensive and led to a “terrible policing outcome”.
“The policing response is extreme, because peaceful protest, and even inconvenient direct action, plays an important role in democracy, and always has,” Higginson said.
Op Dinsdag, a NSW police spokesperson declined to answer questions regarding the operation, including whether it would conduct an internal investigation into whether the safety of undercover officers was compromised, whether the force denied the officers involved had failed to identify themselves, and whether officers conducting surveillance who become compromised are instructed not to identify themselves as police.
The NSW police association also declined to comment on the operation, or on whether they had any concerns it had unnecessarily put members at risk. The acting assistant commissioner, Paul Dunstan, said of the operation on Sunday that “those police that were attacked by that group this morning feared for their lives”.
The protesters were charged by Strike Force Guard, which was set up in March to “prevent, investigate and disrupt unauthorised protests across the state”.
In April, the NSW parliament introduced new legislation aimed at protester groups such as Blockade Australia and Extinction Rebellion that block traffic or conduct other activities such as disrupting coal exports.
Human Rights Watch described the NSW government’s “crackdown on” environmental protesters as “an alarming new trend”, and cautioned the Tasmanian and Victorian governments, which now have protest laws before their parliaments, about following suit.
“Citizens who protest and violate the law can face appropriate punishment, but the punishment should not be intended to prevent all protesters from exercising their fundamental right to protest,” the Australia researcher at Human Rights Watch, Sophie McNeill, gesê. “Climate action will mean more people peacefully taking to the streets, not fewer, and the authorities should accept that.”
McNeill spoke to three people who had been charged under the NSW law and said she was troubled that in their cases and others passing through the court system that harsh bail conditions were being granted by courts.
She said these conditions violated basic human rights.
One of the people McNeill spoke to, Violet (Deanna) Coco, who is a Fireproof Australia supporter, took part in a climate protest on 13 April that stopped traffic in one lane on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The 31-year-old climbed on to the roof of a parked truck and stood holding a lit emergency flare for about 25 minute, and was charged in relation to this protest and her involvement in a series of other protests.
McNeill said Coco was released on $10,000 bail, but the magistrate ordered her not to leave her apartment for any purpose except for emergency medical assistance or to attend court, and she spent 21 days under what she said amounted to house arrest.
Her bail was then amended, but a curfew was imposed banning her from leaving her address before 10am and after 3pm, and she remains under these conditions until trial.
“I don’t think that peaceful protesters should be under 24-hour house arrest,” Coco said in a Human Rights Watch statement.
“Civil disobedience has historically been a way that we’ve been able to achieve mass social change when all other avenues have failed. And I would say we are in that situation right now.”