By Tracy Sorensen
There has been a new round of arrests of Emerald Beach residents and supporters. They are opposing the construction of an ocean outfall sewage system at the Look at Me Now headland near Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales.
One hundred and seventeen were arrested during protests in late October. There were 50 arrests on November 26. According to novelist Grace Bartram, who has been acting as a media spokesperson for the campaign against the outfall, 12 men were strip-searched, and one was left naked in a cell for about an hour and a half.
"It reminds me very strongly of Queensland under Joe Bjelke-Petersen", Bartram told Green Left. "A little bit of disregard for the person they are arresting, and maybe a slight twisting of the arm. It's getting quite ugly, actually."
Two people were injured when the police pulled down tripods. Bartram said the ages of those being arrested ranged from young people of 14, to "very respectable grandmothers in their seventies".
Bartram said that at times over the past weeks there has been one police officer for every two demonstrators. The high police-demonstrator ratio is particularly apparent during the day, when the number of demonstrators falls, leaving the job to "elderly people and kids who've finished their HSC."
"We'd also like to know who is giving the police the orders to strip-search protesters", said Bartram. "Who is giving the orders to arrest under the provisions of the Crimes Act and who gave the orders to send in the dog squad and the Tactical Response Group?"
She said residents could not understand the "indecent haste" with which the construction of the outfall pipe was going ahead, because "the plant to go with it will not be in operation for at least four years.
"The question is being asked is: is it being constructed to facilitate a big developmental group that we know wants to develop land a few miles north of there? We know they can't do that until there is some satisfactory sewage system in place."
The environmentalists are campaigning for the use of Memtech membrane filter sewage technology as an alternative to the ocean outfall.
The Emerald Beach area had been scheduled for marine national park status for 20 years, until the Greiner government downgraded its status to that of a reserve in 1989. This was done, say some residents, to make it easier to implement plans for seabed mining and ocean outfalls.