31 October 2023

Governments 'deaf and blind' to climate crisis, protester says in legal fight

| Albert McKnight

John Wurcker, Kathryn Kelly, Anna Molan, Nick Abel and Cate Adams (front, from left) prepare to defend their charges on Monday. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Five climate change activists, labelled “quite nice” by police, who were arrested after protesting outside a petrol organisation’s building, will call a list of eminent witnesses to fight their charges.

About 30 people gathered outside the Civic office of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association on 27 February 2023 to protest climate change and fossil fuel policies, the ACT Magistrates Court heard on Tuesday (31 October).

Dr Anna Molan, Dr Nick Abel and John Wurcker allegedly blocked one entrance to the building, while Cate Adams and Kathryn Kelly allegedly blocked another entrance.

Police ordered all to leave, but they allegedly did not and after 45 minutes they were arrested.

Dr Molan, a retired psychologist, said she thought she had to join the protest to try to alert the “deaf and blind governments” to the climate crisis, saying they had failed “catastrophically” to take action.

“I was increasingly alarmed at the galloping nature of the climate crisis,” she told the court.

“I wanted to show this is so extreme, so severe, that there ought to be a mass movement to stop the gas industry from cashing in on our destruction.

“If our governments won’t save us, we have to save ourselves. It sounds extreme, but it’s the truth.”

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Ms Kelly started to cry when she addressed the court.

“People are dying all over the world now from climate change, and our children are going to have to face it,” she said.

The protesters had been quiet and peaceful, a detective sergeant called to the scene said.

He was the single witness for the prosecution and said he had told the group it was an offence to block entrances to buildings before giving them time to leave, although they didn’t.

“They were quite nice about it,” the detective sergeant said.

John Wurckler, Kathryn Kelly, Anna Molan, Nick Abel and Cate Adams

The five defendants were supported outside the court on Tuesday morning. Photo: Albert McKnight.

The protesters’ defence will centre on laws that say a person is not criminally responsible if they committed an offence “in response to circumstances of sudden or extraordinary emergency”.

Bernard Colleary, representing all five defendants, proposed to call several eminent witnesses to outline the issues, including former Defence Force chief Admiral Chris Barrie, ex-Australian chief scientist Professor Penny Sackett, former Liberal Party leader Professor John Hewson and ex-Australian Coal Association chair Ian Dunlop.

Prosecutor Luke Fomiatti, representing the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, alleged while Dr Abel and Mr Wurcker had been standing next to Dr Molan, who had been the one in front of the door, they had been contributing to the obstruction she was causing.

“By standing next to Dr Molan, they increased the physical presence of her obstruction,” he claimed.

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Mr Fomiatti said the Commonwealth didn’t concede that there was a climate emergency “per se”, but he did concede that the five defendants reasonably believed an extraordinary emergency existed.

There was a “shade of difference” in those statements, he said, one which was about objective reality and the other was about the defendants’ views.

The court heard the Commonwealth still argued that the protest was not a reasonable response to the climate emergency.

Mr Collaery said the case required Magistrate Ian Temby to determine how “dire” the climate emergency was and whether it would have been reasonable for the five to do what they did.

The five defendants are each fighting charges of unreasonable obstruction. The hearing continues.

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