UP to 500 people have registered to join a flotilla that will paddle out from Horseshoe Beach on Sunday May 8, in what is looming as the largest anti-coal protest at the Port of Newcastle.
But confusion reigns over a decision by Newcastle Basketball Stadium to block the anti-coal protesters from hiring its facilities.
350.org, which is organising the “Break Free” protest, had advertised the basketball stadium at Broadmeadow as the venue for training that would take place the day before.
But Newcastle Basketball general manager Neil Goffet confirmed on Thursday that the group was no longer staying at the stadium.
He said "on advice from the NSW Police Force, we decided not to proceed with the stadium hire booking for this organisation.”
Newcastle police said they were not involved in the decision.
“Any decision between the stadium and the protesters is purely a commercial decision,” Inspector Scott Parker said. “Police don’t engage in such commercial decisions.
“We continue to meet constructively with nominated representatives of Break Free to ensure their lawful right to protest is balanced by competing community and private rights to safely use public spaces.”
Prominent anti-coal activist Steve Phillips, from the Lock the Gate Alliance, said the business was free to make its own decision but it was disappointing if it had been driven by political motivations.
“That kind of hysterical reaction that we see from the mining industry towards protest, where they basically want everybody locked up and to throw away the key, that does rub off on some businesses in the community,” he said.
“But businesses are doing themselves a disservice if they try and cut themselves off from this movement. The people coming to this protest will be ordinary people from all walks of life.”
350.org campaign director Charlie Wood downplayed the incident, saying it was decided that the Glenrock Conservation Area was a preferable venue to the stadium once the protest’s numbers started to swell.
“Broadmeadow (the stadium) also subsequently communicated that they were uncomfortable hosting us,” she said.
Ms Wood would not be drawn on whether protesters would be attempting to blockade coal ships or engaging in other acts of civil disobedience.
“That will be revealed on the day,” she said. “What I can say is the protest will be entirely peaceful.”
Spokesperson for Port Waratah Coal Services Paul Chamberlain said the company respected people’s right to protest but was wary of the dangers posed by civil disobedience.
“There is a lot of heavy machinery that's very technical, from the coal ships to the loaders on our side. You need to be very well trained to be around them,” he said.
“The idea that there might be a risk to the protesters or emergency services or our employees is very concerning.”
The activists will encounter the state government’s tough new anti-protest laws which beef up police powers and increase penalties for activities such as interfering with mining equipment.
“As evidenced by the hundreds of people who’ve already registered to attend the Newcastle Break Free action, these draconian anti-protest laws won’t silence communities from taking a peaceful stand,” Ms Wood said.