Five Climate Angels Arrested For ‘Watching Over’ Santos CSG


Five women aged between 50- and 75-years-old have been forcibly dragged from the road and arrested by police this morning at a Santos coal seam gas development near Narrabri, in north west New South Wales.

The protestors are part of the ‘Climate Guardians’, a group of theatrical activists who assume the guise of angles to create awareness of the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

“After being spoken to by Police, five women were arrested after allegedly failing to comply with directions,” a spokesperson for New South Wales Police said.

“They were taken to Narrabri Police Station and are currently assisting with inquiries. Another woman allegedly threatened Police, before fleeing, and inquiries are continuing.”

The women’s demonstration comes as part of an ongoing civil disobedience campaign targeting Santos’ Leewood Water Treatment Facility, which is the first major stage of construction for a planned 850-well gas field in the Pilliga Forest.

“They chose to be arrested and police had to remove them, but it wasn’t done in a very orderly manner,” said Jo Evans, a spokesperson for the blockade camp that’s co-ordinating non-violent direct action against Santos.

IMAGE: Joanna Evans. Climate Guardian Bronwyn Plarre is removed by Police.
IMAGE: Pilliga Push Camp. Climate Guardian Bronwyn Plarre is removed by Police.

“The police actually struggled with removing them from the road, they used pain compliance – when they use pressure points or bend back wrists to make people comply – on some of them,” Evans said.

“The angels were not resisting arrest, they just didn’t want to move.”

Video of the event was posted to social media this morning. The protester being dragged from the road is wailing, apparently in pain, and can be heard to say “please don’t hurt me, my children need me to do this”.

#PilligaPush Climate Angels Draged off by NSW police for Santos CSG operation in NSW#PilligaPush camp now open fighting CSG in the north west NSW

Posted by Dan Lanzini on Monday, February 8, 2016

Earlier this week, South Australian protestor Kerri Tonkin was pepper sprayed, she says, at point-blank range and without any provocation. One of her arms was allegedly locked to machinery at the time OC spray was deployed.

Police declined to comment on why pepper spray was used, but said in a statement that Tonkin had been charged with resisting arrest.

The New South Wales Greens Justice Spokesperson, David Shoebridge said the force used appeared to be “entirely unjustified in the circumstances, and a dangerous precedent for protests in NSW”.

Despite these events, protestors involved in the ‘Pilliga Push’ blockade camp have continued to engage in civil disobedience on an almost daily basis.

In a statement this morning, the group said there have been 24 arrests, 27 people charged, and numerous other infringements. In addition, the statement said 11 people had risked arrest by locking themselves to machinery or gates, but have avoided charges.

This morning, the five ‘Climate Guardians’ added to that cohort, holding a red ribbon across the road leading up to key Santos’ infrastructure.

The ribbon had been carried by the ‘Climate Guardians’ at a protest in Paris, as part of the civil society response to the landmark United Nations climate change conference held in the French capital in December.

IMAGE: Thom Mitchell. June Norman in Paris, December 2015.
IMAGE: Thom Mitchell. June Norman in Paris, December 2015.

“The red line we held today symbolises a boundary that cannot be crossed, a planetary boundary, a climatic boundary. The red line symbolises the urgency of keeping fossil fuels in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming,” said June Norman, a 75 year old great grandmother from Brisbane who was arrested today.

“We have held the red line at the Pilliga frontline to symbolise the end of coal seam gas in NSW,” Norman said.

The demonstration this morning comes hot on the heels of an announcement from energy giant AGL that it would drop its controversial New South Wales coal seam gas interests at Gloucester. AGL also plans to sell its assets in Queensland.

The decision from AGL was based partly on tanking commodity prices for liquified natural gas, and commentators are increasingly questioning the business case for Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project.

In April a local group opposed to CSG, People for the Plains, will challenge the legality of the environmental approval for Santos’ Leewood Water Treatment Facility in the Land and Environment Court.

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.