Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham Appears In Court Over Rio Tinto Trespass


New South Wales Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham is in the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney today charged with trespassing on property owned by Rio Tinto at a mine site near Bulga, in the Upper Hunter Valley.

Mr Buckingham this morning plead guilty to trespassing on inclosed lands at the resource giant’s Mount Thorley-Warkworth coal mine in mid-2015. However lawyers for Buckingham are pushing for no conviction to be recorded, arguing the motivations which led him to trespass were “altruistic”.

Barrister Kira Levin, from the Environmental Defenders Office, argued in court that the MP deserves leniency because he entered the mine site in order to “inform the public and draw attention to an issue that he believes is of significant public interest”.

The Greens MLC had posted a video to Facebook, in which he seeks to draw comparisons between the Rio Tinto mine and open-cut coal mines that may be developed on the Liverpool Plains, a fertile farming area in north-west New South Wales.

At the time the video was shot, the Greens Mining spokesperson was en-route to an AgQuip event in that same area, at Gunnedah, the court heard. This morning, Ms Levin suggested that producing materials such as the video which has landed Mr Buckingham in court occurred in the context of a long history of environmental campaigning on the part of Mr Buckingham.

She told the court Mr Buckingham has been “a leader in the campaign” calling for the phase-out of coal, an end to plans to develop a coal seam gas industry in the state, and for an upscaling of renewable energy.

File Image: Thom Mitchell. Mr Buckingham protesting against CSG in Sydney last year.
File Image: Thom Mitchell. Mr Buckingham protesting against CSG in Sydney last year.

“… He was only trying to draw attention to an issue he feels passionate about,” Ms Levin said, suggesting Mr Buckingham had sought to “educate” the public “about the threat that coal mining poses to the Liverpool Plains, like many videos Mr Buckingham makes and puts on his website”.

During Mr Buckingham’s brief appearance this morning, the magistrate questioned whether “the community [is]entitled to rely on the high standards of a parliamentarian”. Another former Greens Parliamentarian, the party’s one-time Federal leader Bob Brown, has provided a statement attesting to Mr Buckingham’s good character.

Ms Levin submitted that Mr Buckingham was unlikely to reoffend. At one point, she suggested the MP would “perhaps rely on technology” in future, rather than put himself in breach of the law in order to capture similar footage.

Mr Buckingham is facing up to five penalty units if a conviction of trespass is recorded. The matter is due back in court after 2pm.

This morning I will appear in the Downing Centre Court in Sydney charged with ‘Enter Inclosed Lands not prescribed…

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.