As the reality of the climate emergency becomes more widely accepted throughout the community, those who continue to deny it seem to be mainly those in charge. And, as usual, they want to clamp down on individuals who don’t reflect their opinion.
This might explain why Extinction Rebellion (XR) protester Eric “Sergio” Herbert spent three nights in the Brisbane watch house last week over a non-custodial offence, as the legal professionals who’ve been assisting with his case can’t explain otherwise.
Sergio was out the front of the Brisbane Magistrates Court last Thursday morning hoping to enter, so he could lend support to two fellow demonstrators who were before the court at the time. And the young man also wanted to pay off a fine after he’d previously been arrested for protesting Adani.
As Sergio didn’t comply with an order to move on issued by some Queensland police officers, the activist was arrested, refused bail and locked up for the night. When he went before Magistrate Walter Ehrich the following morning, he was sent back to the watch house for a further 48 hours.
Held with no legal contact
“The magistrate issued him with a $400 fine, with no time to pay,” said Extinction Rebellion Southeast Queensland (SEQ) spokesperson Clancey Maher. This meant he had to pay on the spot – although, he was denied access to his funds – or spend further days behind bars.
“As he had no ability to pay, a conviction was recorded and he was forced to spend two extra days in the watch house as his punishment,” the climate change activist told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “So, it was instead of paying the fine.”
Mr Herbert was charged and found guilty of contravening the direction of a police officer, contrary to section 791 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld). It carries a maximum penalty of a fine of up to $5,338. However, no custodial penalty applies to this offence whatsoever.
According to Maher, a lawyer from Brisbane initially tried to offer Sergio support, but was denied access to him. Indeed, the 20-year-old wasn’t able to communicate with a legal representative until an Environmental Defenders Office lawyer was allowed to speak to him on Friday evening.
“They’re under the impression, as is the Brisbane lawyer, that what happened to Serge is unprecedented,” Ms Maher made clear. “So, there’s definitely going to be some follow up legal action happening against the procedure.”
Taking action before it’s too late
Over recent weeks, Mr Herbert’s contact with the law has been increasing. His arrest last Thursday morning at around 11 am – which saw him incarcerated until 9 am on Sunday – was actually the third time he’s been taken into custody in the same number of weeks.
Herbert caused halts to peak hour traffic when he and another XR activist superglued themselves to the middle of Queen Street in Brisbane’s CBD at 7.30 am on 18 June. On that occasion, he told the court that he didn’t care about his punishment and he declared he’d be out protesting again.
And, sure enough, Mr Herbert was back in Brisbane CBD blocking peak hour traffic early morning once more on 27 June. This time he and three other XR protesters stopped lines of vehicles making their way across Brisbane’s Victoria Bridge, using a canoe they were seated in to block them.
“Sergio and multiple other people around the world are breaking the law and taking civil disobedience because of government inaction on climate change,” Maher explained. “The action he’s taking is not a desirable thing to do, but it’s what he, and many other people, see as necessary.”
Breaking the law peacefully
The Extinction Rebellion made world headlines last April, when the nonviolent movement’s members shut down parts of the centre of London for over a week. At the time, over 1,000 protesters willingly got arrested, as a means to bring about change.
The Rebellion has now sprung up in countries around the globe, with activists carrying out acts of civil disobedience in order to spark governments into taking action over the emergency before it’s too late to prevent a total climate collapse.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was released last October. It outlined that humanity only has a dozen years to act on climate change in order to keep global temperatures from rising over 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Since then, it has come out that it was quite a conservative estimate and it’s more like three to four years,” Maher stressed. “If we don’t seriously change the way we produce energy, and the carbon emissions we put into the atmosphere, we are going to see more extremes of climate change.”
The rebellion continues
Extinction Rebellion activists were at it again on Monday morning swarming Brisbane intersections at peak hour and refusing to move on when police ordered them to. Seven protesters – including Sergio – were arrested for disturbing the peace and taken into custody for a number of hours.
“The unfortunate reality is the more people who get arrested, the more visibility it gets, and the more people will see that it’s actually a worthwhile sacrifice to make,” Ms Maher said. “It actually encourages more people to get arrested.”
Climate change actions in Brisbane have been on the rise over recent weeks. And they’ve only been exacerbated by the announcement that the final government approval for Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin was given the green light in mid-June.
The Extinction Rebellion SEQ Facebook page lists a number of planned demonstrations coming up. And these culminate in the 6 August Brisbane: Rebellion Day rally, when, it’s hoped, thousands will converge on the city to shut down the “business as usual of central Brisbane”.
“Every day nothing is done, it only gets worse,” Ms Maher concluded. “Every day that people don’t act, it gets more extreme and it’s more necessary that people actually stand up and take action.”
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.