'Fines, jail time won't stop me protesting' says Christian climate activist

Climate change activists will continue to protest, despite a crackdown in NSW that sees them risk jail time and hefty fines.

Greg Rolles, a committed climate change activist, is optimistic about such legal moves, believing that the threat of jail time will reinforce the importance of climate change action, not lessen it.

“People go through a lot worse in other countries, either trying to survive the climate crisis or resist it. So the threat of jail or more severe fines I hope will just encourage people to realise that we all need to lovingly resist the system and get in the way as much as we can,” Rolles says.

Rolles is a Christian and a member of Blockade Australia – a direct action group of climate protestors that blockade rail and roads in ports to protest inaction on climate change. Their aim is to “force the urgent broad-scale change necessary for survival”.

Protestors like Rolles are the target of new legislation passed in the state last Friday.

Now, members of the public can be fined up to $22,000 and/or jailed for a maximum of two years for protesting illegally on public roads, rail lines, tunnels, bridges and industrial estates. The new offence applies to ports in Newcastle, Port Kembla and Port Botany, but the government says it intends to add more facilities.

The tough news anti-protest laws, which were introduced and passed in less than a week, have drawn criticism from civil society groups. 39 organisations, including Amnesty International, the Human Rights Law Centre and Jesuit Social Services have signed an open letter calling the laws “draconian”.

Rolles has previously taken part in the exact types of protests targetted by the new laws. In November, he took a 5-hour shift in a “tree sit” that was part of a 12-day protest in Newcastle. Rolles and other protestors blocked the only train line into the coal port.

Despite the new laws, Rolles says he will take part in disruptive action again because he is compelled by his Christian faith.

“The commands are to love our neighbours as our selves and to work not for meat that perishes, which some might perceive as working for love, not for money,” Rolles says.

“And when we’re living in a system where 200 species are going extinct every day, and we’ve got our neighbours suffering in floods in Lismore, and we’ve got neighbours dying of starvation in Madagascar, the only response is to non-violently get in the way.”

Rolles is not the only Christian who has stood up to authorities on the issue of climate change. Margie Pestorius is another high profile Christian climate activist.

Both Pestorius and Rolles were in court last Thursday when another Blockade Australia member, Max Curmi, was sentenced to four months in jail for his climate activism.

Curmi climbed a 60-metre crane a week earlier in protests organised by Blockade Australia. The 26-year-old live-streamed the event on Facebook as he tied himself to the main arm of the top of the crane. His action temporarily shut down one of the port terminals, preventing a ship from loading.

In court, after hearing Curmi described as taking risks, Pestorius reportedly gave a spirited defence of the young man. She said he was brave and his action as protecting the future of young people like himself. In no justice system should someone be jailed for doing that, Pestorius added.