Residents arrested defending Emerald Beach


Residents arrested defending Emerald Beach

By Tracy Sorensen

One hundred and seventeen people have been arrested at the Look At Me Now Headland at Emerald Beach near Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales, for attempting to stop work on an ocean outfall sewage scheme.

Most of the 117 are Emerald Beach residents. Emerald Beach's population is approximately 300. Protester Mark Wittleton told Green Left that "only about two or three" residents supported the outfall scheme.

Sixty-seven people were arrested on October 29, charged with "watching and besetting", a charge which has never been used in protests in NSW before. Melody Haskins, who refused to sign bail conditions forbidding her to return to the protest area, spent five days in jail in Grafton.

A new round of protests against pipe laying is expected at any time, possibly sparking a new wave of arrests.

"The situation is extremely volatile", said Coffs Harbour alderman Alph Williams. "Residents are determined to continue the fight no matter how many threats are made by police. Most people are appalled and bewildered by the heavy intimidation being brought to bear on ordinary people attempting to stand up for their democratic rights.

"Women have been threatened by police that they will be charged with neglect of their children or have the youngsters taken away by Family and Community Services."

Wittleton, a representative of the Coffs Harbour Environment Centre, said that people were "virtually prepared to go back to the old can system if it came down to it!" But this was not necessary, because a more suitable alternative, using technology developed by the Australian firm Memtech, was available. This was being ignored by the Greiner government, said Wittleton.

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, said Wittleton, was done to make it easier to implement plans for seabed mining and ocean outfalls.