Why would a 54 year-old woman make a decision to lock herself onto the train tracks of the world’s biggest coal port?
Annette Schneider, an artist and farmer from Monaro in NSW, explained to Green Left Weekly that her action on March 31 was a direct result of her fear of catastrophic climate change.
She said: “Our political system has failed us, we have no time to waste before we take the advice of the world’s top scientists at NASA and our own CSIRO to shut down our coal export industry and leave 90% of our coal resources in the ground. We must do all we can to mitigate climate change while we can still make a difference. Giving up on the attempt will lead to the certain elimination of our species.”
Using an innovative lock-down system which included a massage table and tent, concrete-filled barrels and metal pipes, Annette managed to block access to the Port of Newcastle’s coal loader for three hours. Fourteen coal trains were reportedly held up as a result.
Although Schneider acknowledges that there may be a heavy personal price to pay for her actions, she feels that, in a civilisation supposedly based on scientific knowledge, Australia’s state and federal governments are morally negligent in ignoring the advice of experts to urgently move away from fossil fuel dependence.
She believes that organisations like 350.org and Front Line Action on Coal are helping individuals to make a difference through divestment campaigns and grassroots action.
Schneider said: “We should all make positive personal efforts to not only lower our individual footprints but to stop the damage that we are doing to our biodiversity, food and water supplies.
“We can’t all lie down in front of coal trains, but we can stop the culture of manufactured fear and ignorance fed by misinformation coupled with greed that takes our future away from us and puts it in the hands of corrupt politicians and corporations.”
The extent of the personal price that Schneider may have to pay was foreshadowed by NSW Premier Mike Baird in early February when he officially opened the largest coalmine under construction in Australia at Maules Creek in the Gunnedah basin.
Baird took the precaution of arriving at the site by helicopter in order to avoid residents from the local community who opposed the project. Declaring his support for the coal industry in NSW he promised to “crack down” on protesters opposing coal development projects.
Shortly after Baird was re-elected, hearings began with extra sittings in Narrabri Local Court for more than 300 protesters charged with obstructing the Maules Creek project.
In the week before Easter, 12 of these activists were fined a total of $35,000. One protester was fined $7750 for blocking a road while suspended from a tree. Other fines ranged from $1000 to $6000.
Baird seems intent on protecting the coal industry by crushing legitimate protesters with the iron heel of the state apparatus.
But as people like Schneider and many others have shown, this can be defeated by people power.