Alternatives Bookshop owner John Ross may seem like a shy and gentle man, but actually he’s a climate change warrior.
On Tuesday March 13 he fronted Bowen Magistrates Court in Queensland charged with trespassing, refusing an order to move on, and interfering with the operation of a port.
He pleaded guilty and was fined $8000 but no conviction was recorded.
John’s been arrested before – in September, for a sit-in at Adani’s Townsville office; and he’s locked-on before – in 2015, while protesting against the Maules Creek coal mine near Narrabri.
The 69-year-old has also spent at least three decades being “a pillar of the community”, as the rather lenient Townsville magistrate he faced after last year’s sit-in remarked.
As well as running the Alternatives Bookshop in Bellingen for the last six years, John has been heavily involved with Landcare since its inception in the 1990s, he’s lectured on bush regeneration, and at his Lacebark Nursery in Coramba he cultivates native plants for revegetation projects.
And he’s utterly convinced that allowing coal mining to continue would be “an unconscionable betrayal of future generations”.
Along with three other protesters from the Coffs Coast and a Townsville schoolteacher, John broke into Adani’s Abbot Point Terminal before dawn on January 18 and fastened his arm to a coal conveyor.
He isn’t at liberty to disclose how they managed their entry, but he does say it took longer than they expected, and it was an anxiety-provoking and exhausting process, so lying down and locking-on came as something of a relief.
The group effectively stopped operations at the terminal for seven hours and gained widespread media attention for Frontline Action on Coal’s non-violent, direct action campaign to stymie development of Adani’s proposed mega mine in the Galilee Basin.
“This is the line in the sand,” John says.
“We simply can’t afford to open up the Galilee Basin and still hope to go anywhere near maintaining a carbon budget that confines climate change to two degrees. It’s a massive, massive mine, and it would be adding massively to carbon pollution, at a time when renewables are technically and financially superior.”
John chooses to take action to avert climate chaos, even if it means annoying the police and putting his own body in harm’s way.
When you’re being cut off a lock-on device by grumpy police with an angle grinder, it’s the climate disaster we’re trying to fight that keeps you calm.John Ross
Alongside John Ross in Bowen Magistrates Court yesterday were 13 other activists involved in multiple non-violent direct actions against Adani.
The sum total of their fines was a hefty $79,500.
Magistrate Simon Young noted that each of the activists had made substantial contributions to the community through their volunteer work and that their “commitment to social justice” enhanced their communities.
He said while the activists showed great insight into the issues surrounding fossil fuel expansions, civil disobedience was not the only option available to them, and they had crossed the line of acceptable protest.
The ‘interfering with a port’ charge faced by John and the other three Coffs Coast locals, Liisa Rusanen, Daniel Skerrett and Ella Skerrett, has not previously been heard in an Australian court.
The outcome – a fine of $8000 imposed on each of them – sets a benchmark for future cases heard under the legislation.
However, John has no intention of giving up the fight.
“The movement to stop coal is growing and I felt really well supported at today’s court case,” he said. “I’m more determined than ever to find ways to push for stronger action on climate change.”
Prior to the court case, the Coffs Coast Climate Action Group organised a fundraising campaign to raise $16,000, as a fine of $4000 for each protester had been expected.
Overnight, as news that the outcome was twice as bad filtered across social media, the total raised went from $8,500 to $10,120.
The group plans another big fundraising concert to cover the rest and support the ongoing campaign.
To chip in to help the Coffs Coast locals, go to https://chuffed.org/project/coffs-crew-legals-fundraiser-stop-adani-port-action#/story
To contribute to the broader crowdfunding campaign to cover the fines for all activists who were fined $8000, go to https://chuffed.org/project/adani-protest-defence-fund
This story has been updated to include the outcome of the court case and a few other details.
It was initially published as Locking on to save the planet