Reprieve for protesters who blocked Sydney traffic

·3-min read
Flavio Brancaleone/AAP PHOTOS

Greg Rolles wondered how walking on a road landed him behind the bars of a Sydney jail cell.

"I want to use the word sad, but it's deeper than that, it's depressing," he told AAP.

Rolles and his 75-year-old cellmate Elizabeth Hartrick were arrested in June 2020 for blocking Sydney traffic as part of a climate protest and spent three days in prison.

A year later, a court has overturned Rolles' $1500 fine and ordered him to be on good behaviour for two years.

"However firmly you hold these views, you're building up a record where the courts might soon consider jail time," District Court Judge John North told him in an appeal hearing on Tuesday.

"We have to operate within the legislature. Others vehemently disagree, but there's nothing much I can do about it."

With a litany of protesting offences already under his belt, Rolles said he's prepared to do whatever it takes.

"I don't want to go to jail, that'd be horrible," he said outside court.

"But people are dying, civil disobedience is all we have left, some of us have to do what is considered more extreme actions but what's more extreme is the climate crisis we're facing, so if I have to I will."

The 40-year-old former teacher was also arrested in 2021 for hoisting himself up a tree above a coal train in the NSW Hunter region, leading to a four-hour operational shutdown.

The judge said significant emergency resources were halted and put the offence at the medium range of seriousness.

While on bail he was forbidden from talking to fellow protesters, using encrypted applications including WhatsApp and was subject to police searches on his devices.

Rolles also had to stop volunteering with a women's refuge group in Kabul which communicated entirely through encrypted messages for safety.

The 40-year-old has PTSD and said he felt the bail conditions were "overly-harsh".

"Some of those people were my closest friends," he said

"It was quite isolating to not be able to talk to any of them."

Rolles has joined other activists in arguing the NSW justice system is not "keeping up with the climate crisis".

Susan Kvelde and fellow protester Dom Jacobs took the NSW government to the Supreme Court last month, challenging the tough anti-protest laws rushed through state parliament last year.

The laws were introduced by the former NSW coalition government with the support of the then Labor opposition following a series of environmental protests which disrupted Sydney traffic in 2022.

The new laws ban protesters from gathering around major facilities and train stations, and protests that block others from using those facilities.

Rolles said the laws and protesters' court experiences have not deterred them from their cause.

"We've just refocused on the task at hand, which is protecting our home from the threats of climate collapse," he said.

Dr Hartrick, a university academic who spent more than 30 hours in custody for her role in the June 2022 protest, leaves court with a clean sheet after the judge dismissed her charges.

"This is your last chance," Judge North said on Tuesday.

"(But) I appreciate the genuineness of your protesting."

While the activists have no intention of slowing, lawyers representing them from the Environmental Defenders Office said they will continue to fight their battles in court.