Lock-on protesters reject community service as ‘burden’
A BOWEN magistrate has become the first to sentence two women under new lock-on device laws, handing them a term of imprisonment after the pair rejected community service orders.
Melbourne women Eleanor Cassandra Theresa Haas, 21, and Gali Schell, 23, were "motivated by the bushfire crisis" when they locked secured themselves to a lock-on device and blocked train access to Abbot Point Coal Terminal.
The pair pleaded guilty in Bowen Magistrate Court to the use of dangerous attachment devices to interfere with transport infrastructure obstructing a railway, trespass on a railway, contravening the direction of police.
Police prosecutor Sergeant Emma Myors said police were called to a gathering of about 20 protesters blocking access to Abbot Point Rd, north of Bowen, at 4am on January 7.
Haas and Schell were sitting on each side of a 44-gallon drum "in the proximity of the track", with the pair locked onto it with a locking device they could release themselves, Sgt Myors said.
The court heard about 4.50am the pair were given "clear directions" to cease the protest and remove themselves from the proximity of the railway, which they didn't.
Sgt Myors said the pair were extracted by police with specialised tools and taken to the Bowen watch house about 9am.
Lawyer Daniel Bakewell said the pair were motivated by the recent fires in the southeast of Australia and travelled from Victoria to "take action".
He said Haas, who works part-time and studies a Bachelor of Arts, and Schell who is currently unemployed, were active in the community and this was their first criminal charge.
Mr Bakewell suggested a penalty of fines would be an appropriate sentence, something Magistrate Ron Muirhead rejected.
"Clearly from the prevalence this comes before the court, fines are not working," Mr Muirhead said.
"This action was clearly planned. You travelled from Victoria, created the device, transported it and then alerted the authorities - full well knowing you would be arrested.
"You have a right to protest, much like the Aurizon train drivers have a right to not be exposed to dangerous situations, however there are legal methods of doing this and you know that.
"In my view, this was foolish and irresponsible and a fine would not be an appropriate penalty.
Mr Muirhead initially offered Haas and Schell 100 hours of community service, telling them they were required to accept or a term of imprisonment would be considered. The pair rejected community service.
"Given their personal circumstances and the fact they live in Victoria, this would be a burden on them," Mr Bakewell said.
For the use of a dangerous device, Haas and Schell were both sentenced to three months imprisonment, wholly suspended for two years, with the conviction recorded.
For the other three offences no penalty was imposed, with convictions not recorded.
"There's no one to blame but yourselves, imprisonment is a last resort however given the situation it is the only option," Mr Muirhead said.