Climate activist resentenced after NSW Police admit to providing false evidence

October 12, 2023
Fireproof Australia climate action
Jay Larbalestier (left and inset) at the Fireproof Australia climate action in April, last year. Photo: Fireproof Australia

Climate activist Jay Larbalestier was resentenced on October 4, after NSW Police were found to have provided false information in his arrest at a climate protest in April last year.

Larbalestier was arrested for glueing himself to the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of a Fireproof Australia climate protest. Fellow climate activist Violet CoCo was arrested at the same action.

Larbalestier spent four days in custody, served 42 days under a community control order, undertook 200 hours of community service and shouldered a $7025 fine.

Fireproof Australia said: “As the police prosecutor awkwardly explained to the court, the original statement of facts contained a false assertion. Despite what the police initially claimed, an ambulance had not been obstructed as a result of the protest.

“This same falsehood had originally led to Mr Larbalestier receiving significantly higher penalties — a falsehood that, on being exposed, saw Violet CoCo’s original 15-month prison sentence overturned on appeal earlier in the year.”

Larbalestier told Green Left: “The allegation about the ambulance was first raised with me by detectives during an interview at Day Street Police Station. At the time I said I didn’t believe them, having heard at least one account of police inventing a similar story the past. ‘Well,’ said one of the detectives, ‘I wouldn’t want that on my conscience.’"

Larbalestier said Fireproof Australia is very careful in their protest planning.

“As stated on our website, Fireproof Australia’s ‘policy is, and has always been to move out of the way for ambulances and fire trucks with ‘blue lights’ on’. When designing our action, we chose to block only a single lane of traffic, leaving multiple lanes open — a deliberate effort to minimise any risk to others.

“When the police eventually repeated the allegation in court, however, I started to doubt myself. Maybe we made a mistake, I thought. I figured they wouldn’t lie in the courtroom. I lived with months of uncertainty and guilt — and served 200 hours of community service as part of my original sentence — before the truth finally came out, thanks to our hardworking lawyers.

“The use of false evidence was only one in a series of disturbing incidents at the hands of NSW Police, whose subsequent actions have included the carrying out of raids on the campsites and homes of nonviolent protesters [and] the infliction serious injuries on beloved local personality and activist Danny Lim.

“Nor are such incidents confined to New South Wales. Activists in Western Australia have had their homes raided, while in recent days WA police have demanded that journalists working for Four Corners hand over footage of protestors, the act of which would compromise protected sources.”

Based the police falsehoods, Larbalestier’s lawyer argued in court that he should receive no penalty and have no conviction recorded.

However, Magistrate Covington recorded a conviction for the most serious charge of obstructing traffic on the Harbour Bridge — an offence under the anti-protest laws rushed through NSW parliament last year.

A spokesperson for Fireproof Australia agreed with the lawyer’s argument, saying that “peaceful protesters should not be criminalised”.

Fireproof Australia is calling for more funding for firefighters — specifically for a vital fleet of water bombers needed to keep people safe in the upcoming fire season, as called for by the bushfire royal commission.

Larbalestier said: “We are now experiencing first hand the carnage of inaction on global heating: the 2019–20 Black Summer bushfires directly caused 33 deaths and almost 450 more from smoke inhalation. Billions of animals were killed, and some plant and animal species were driven to the brink of extinction.

“This repression of nonviolent protesters is designed to enable the ongoing plunder of our natural resources by wealthy and powerful multinationals, a practice which must cease immediately in order to prevent the collapse of our climate system, as the best science informs us."

Despite the crackdown, climate protests in NSW are ramping up again with the impending fire season, with Extinction Rebellion hosting a zombie march on October 29 at Sydney Town Hall. Climate action group Rising Tide plans to block the world’s biggest coal port, in Newcastle, in late November.

“I sense things are starting to shift. Momentum is building again,” said Larbalestier.

“To secure a liveable planet we will depend on our ability to build a mass movement, and to employ a diversity of nonviolent tactics.”

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