Climate defender Emma Dorge went before the Downing Centre Local Court on Wednesday, 14 December 2022 over charges relating to her having suspended herself by a bipod to the side of a Port Botany freight bridge blocking all rail coming in and out of Sydney’s fossil fuel shifting seaport.
Dorge’s 25 March action marked the fourth of five days in which Blockade Australia took nonviolent action to bring the important port to a halt. And her protest heightened awareness of the climate campaign due to her on-air television spat with Sunrise’s Kochie while she was hanging there.
As David Koch had a go at the climate defender, Dorge succinctly put it to the television host that the action was ongoing as “there needs to be material disruption to the flow of wealth and resources secured by a government system that has no regard for human life and is destroying ecosystems”.
On Wednesday, the activist’s lawyer Mark Davis secured a plea deal with the prosecution, whereby it dropped two of the most serious charges, and Dorge pleaded guilty to four lesser charges. She now has to appear before the courts on 22 December for sentencing.
Wenzel Auch is another climate defender who took part in the five day long Blockade Australia actions at Port Botany in March this year. He went before the courts on Thursday charged over his actions and was sentenced to an 18 month community correction order and fined $1,000.
Effective protests spark crackdown
The Blockade Australia Port Botany shutdown and a series of direct actions conducted by Fireproof Australia that involved blocking Greater Sydney roads in March led the Perrottet government to roll out some of the most draconian anti-protest laws on the planet in late March/early April.
The new section 144G of the Roads Act 1993 now sees those involved in protests that block a road, a bridge, a tunnel or a major facility facing up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a $22,000 fine. And the measures, which were specifically aimed at climate activists, are designed to have a chilling effect and capture all unauthorised protest.
“These laws are draconian,” Dorge said on the day following her court appearance. “The government is trying to scare people. That’s obviously because there have been some effective actions that have threatened to build serious momentum and power.”
“They can see how powerful the action is and that’s why they’re trying to scare people away from it,” the climate defender told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “If it wasn’t effective, they wouldn’t care if people were doing it.”
Dorge has been taking action on climate for five years now. And it’s not the first time she’s fallen foul of the law. She was part of the numerous actions that Extinction Rebellion activists carried out over a prolonged period in Brisbane in 2019.
The activist underscores that since the time of the crackdown in NSW, all that’s been achieved is a worsening of the climate crisis.
The IPCC has long warned temperatures need to be kept below 1.5°C or 2°C on pre-industrial levels, yet a recent UN report states we’re on track for a 2.5°C rise.
But the activist also conveys hope, as over her time raising awareness to the crisis she’s seen a shift, as the effects of climate change – the massive bushfires and ongoing floods – have led the general public to acknowledge the truth of the situation, so she’s no longer having to deal with deniers.
“I was still having conversations with people five years ago about whether climate change was real, even though it had been proven decades before that,” Dorge added. “We were still talking about whether climate change is real but now we’re talking about its tangible effects.”
“Polling shows that most people in society not only know about the climate crisis but are really concerned about it,” she concluded.