Another climate defender jailed

Group of activists on steps of Magistrates court holding a banner

Deanna “Violet” Coco was recently sentenced to a record breaking fifteen months in prison by a NSW magistrate, for a peaceful climate protest. There is a solidarity event at the courthouse on Tuesday 12th for her bail appeal.

She is the fifth activist in NSW to be sentenced to jail in the last year or so, with others successfully appealing their sentences. Several others were locked up for three weeks on remand awaiting bail appeals to the Supreme Court. Some cases are pending.

They are among dozens of activists who are on strict non association orders, from Blockade Australia and other protests, unable to speak to friends and colleagues, not allowed to use encrypted messaging apps, and many more restrictions. Others have endured house arrest, curfews and can’t travel interstate or see family. 

October saw a groundbreaking constitutional challenge to the anti protest laws with two Knitting Nannas from a flood impacted region of NSW being supported in the case by the Environmental Defenders Office.


Police instigated a specialist operation, Strike Force Guard pre-emptively targeting activists in the lead up to a mining conference in November – more than 30 people, including school strike youth, Knitting Nana’s, and people who have never been arrested were followed and harassed by police in the lead up to the IMARC mining Conference, including First Nations custodians.

After the IMARC conference, that saw excessive over policing Sydney City Council passed a unanimous, bi partisan motion (including Labor and Liberal councillors) calling for revocation of the protest laws and for police to curtail heavy handed tactics. Whilst Violet was arrested prior to the introduction of the draconian anti protest laws in NSW, the legislation was actually expanded from S144 which allowed higher penalties relating to blockage of the Sydney Harbour Bridge since 2016. Others are still awaiting court under the new laws (Explainer here from NSW CCL).

A recent Guardian article outlined the extreme lengths politicians went to, in order to pass laws anti protest laws during April 2022, through both houses in a matter of a few days. There was brief dissent in the labor movement at the time from a couple of unions, however this was ignored and a small amendment was made, supposedly exempting unions from this legislation – however the definition is narrow, and would not cover many events unionists would attend. A snap protest was held out the front, and within parliament a filibuster and attempted amendments by the Greens.

At the NSW state labor conference in mid October, a motion was put by the Australian Services Union and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union calling on ALP to scrap the laws if elected, including a great speech by Angus McFarland speaking to unionists’ historical and current role in social movements. It unfortunately failed to get up, however there is still considerable dissent.

A mock up of a spam checker image asking people to "select all images" that put our way of life at risk, showing the contrast between fossil fuel pollution, floods and peaceful activism. Image shared on twitter by Richard Smith

Unions NSW passed a resolution against the legislation, and set up an email campaign to Perrottet. 40 organisations signed onto a letter condemning the laws as well as many other voices of dissent, including the Aboriginal Legal Service, Tim Costello and people from a range of organisations. We saw even broader civil society support for the potentially unlawful surveillance, arrest, raids and harassment of Blockade Australia activists with unprecedented collaboration between human rights, legal organisations and impacted grassroots activists – who are now working in an informal coalition organising ongoing solidarity work.

What is critical to remind people of – is that all the recent direct action mentioned, in fact all climate related civil disobedience going back for the last two decades, has been explicitly nonviolent – from tiny vigils in country towns to the largest mass civil disobedience event, Break Free in 2016 which blockaded the massive coal port in Newcastle with 2000 people, and everything since.

Whilst repression has been escalating for some time – with high fines during the Leard Blockade resistance to Whitehaven Coal expansion (2014-17), to a series of huge penalties connected to frontline resistance at the Adani mine – we worked with Julian Burnside to get this article out in 2018 – we are breaking terrifying new ground in terms of surveillance, harassment, and poor treatment of activists, as well as increased penalties, harsh bail conditions and jail now being considered a reasonable sentencing choice by numerous magistrates.

What is concerning is that these laws, not just in NSW, but around the country, will expose people who are already targeted by police, to potentially huge consequences for simple road blockages.

There are recent anti protest laws in place in Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales which have been met with widespread dissent. As social movements adjust to the new Federal landscape with ALP at the helm, still opening mines and subsidising fossil fuels, still locking up refugees, still overseeing racial injustice, it is critical that chrities and NGO’s use the new space opened up with the recent welcome change of the ACNC commissioner, to advocate for peaceful civil resistance.

Inconvenience is not violence. Disruption does not deserve jail time and some “inconvenience” has been part of every single social change fought for and won by movements for social, climate and racial justice. Protest has historically been disruptive in every successful campaign – to support workers rights, votes for women, or to defend our forests and precious places.  

It’s very helpful for all people and organisations to speak out individually, on social media. Or email your local labor member in NSW calling for the laws to be revoked. Please use hashtag #ProtectProtest – not just #FreeVioletCoco as we want to continue to build momentum, even if Violet is hopefully released on bail. Secondary tags include #ResistRepression and #RightToProtest

If your organisation would like to sign onto the open letter that is going to be published next week, please contact us via our contact form to have a copy shared with you.

Further background