Port wants payback from protesters

CLIMATE ACTIVISTS: The rising tide protest in September.
CLIMATE ACTIVISTS: The rising tide protest in September.

Protesters who shut down the world’s largest coal export operation in Newcastle last month could have to pay almost half a million dollars to the port to cover its losses.

Police prosecutors made an application for $619,331 in compensation yesterday when the protesters appeared on criminal charges in Newcastle Local Court.

Forty-one members of the Rising Tide group held a simultaneous protest at three coal-loader sites around Newcastle at dawn on September 26 to highlight the impact of coal on climate change.

Some scaled loaders and suspended themselves in mid-air, forcing machinery to be shut down.

Thirty-two protesters were fined on the day.

Seven, who were charged with remaining on inclosed lands, could be forced to pay compensation of up to $60,000 each, even though the maximum penalty for the criminal offence is $550.

The maximum compensation a local court can impose is $60,000.

An initial police statement put the losses figure at $97,000 to Port Waratah Coal Services and $100,000 to Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group.

At first mention in court yesterday the figure was said to be $236,000 to Port Waratah only, but during the second appearance it was confirmed to be $619,331 to Port Waratah.

The court heard the protesters’ actions diverted 20 specialist police and they had to bring in cranes to get the demonstrators down.

The group’s defence barrister Ken Averre said the figures had been ‘‘plucked from the air’’.

He argued that compensation should only be made for acts of violence and to individuals, which Magistrate Elaine Truscott agreed was the objective of the act.

Prosecutors argued the act allowed compensation to be made to corporations and Magistrate Truscott set a date for a hearing.

‘‘The whole purpose of the protest is to close the coal loader down,’’ Magistrate Truscott said.

‘‘If people want to make a protest against a commercial enterprise then don’t they have to take the consequences.

‘‘It’s all very well for them to want to draw attention to global warming, but they can do that outside the fence.’’

The matter will be back in court next month.