Minister, 97, off the hook after port blockade arrest

Luke Costin and Samantha Lock |

United Church minister Alan Stuart was among protesters detained after a Newcastle Port blockade.
United Church minister Alan Stuart was among protesters detained after a Newcastle Port blockade.

An elderly minister arrested after paddling into a shipping lane to block a major coal port says the state of the climate for future generations is more important than what happens to him.

Uniting Church minister Alan Stuart, 97, was arrested on Sunday alongside 108 other climate activists at the Port of Newcastle.

Appearing outside a Newcastle court on Monday, the veteran activist remained resolute in his fight for climate justice. 

“Whatever happens to me doesn’t matter but what happens to the climate is going to affect future generations,” he said.

“My grandchildren and great-grandchildren …  I want them to have the same privileges that we had growing up.”

Rev Stuart was nursing a minor bump on his back after officers assisted him from a pastel pink canoe onto the shore following the 30-hour blockade.

Groups began taking turns paddling into the shipping lane servicing the world’s largest coal port on Saturday morning.

As 4pm passed on Sunday, marking the end of police permission for the protest, scores remained in the water expecting to be apprehended.

A total of 109 people were arrested – 49 males and 60 females, including five minors, NSW Police said.

A 97-year-old minister was arrested after paddling into a shipping lane.

Isaac Leonard, 23, and John Wurcker, 65, were held in police custody overnight and appeared before Newcastle Local Court on Monday.

Both pleaded guilty to breaching Section 14A of the Maritime Safety Act and were fined $600 and $650 respectively. 

Others arrested will face court in January while the five minors will be dealt with under the Young Offenders Act.

All have been charged with operating a vessel so as to interfere with others’ use of waters.

As of Monday afternoon, Mr Stuart had not been issued a court attendance notice and organisers told AAP they did not believe he had been charged.

A flotilla of kayaks
A flotilla of kayaks and other boats took part in a blockade at Newcastle Port. (HANDOUT/RISING TIDE)

Protesters demanded the government stop allowing new coal projects, tax fossil fuel export profits at 75 per cent to fund community and industrial transition and pay for climate loss and damage.

NSW Premier Chris Minns said he understood the activists’ passion but coal export revenue was needed to fund the transition to a renewable energy future.

“Not only is the extraction and sale and export of minerals in NSW legal, it’s our single biggest export,” he told reporters in Sydney on Monday. 

“If we don’t take some of the royalties from coal export, we will not meet our renewable energy targets in NSW.”

Transport Minister Jo Haylen said the port had since resumed normal operations.

Police allege the protesters intentionally entered the harbour channel after the deadline lapsed despite warnings and directions.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties said several legal observers were also arrested at the event and charged for undertaking activities within their role as observers. 

In a letter to NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb, the council called for the charges to be withdrawn.

“They are independent of the protest itself and do not take part in the protest, any decision-making regarding the protest, or directing protesters,” the letter read.