THE region’s top cop has warned police are prepared to impose an indefinite ban on public access to the Leard State Forest in a bid to stop illegal protest activity.
Road blocks were set up early yesterday morning to prevent all but mine workers and local residents entering the forest in the wake of escalating demonstrations.
About 80 people were arrested on Monday after storming onto Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine site in the latest mass showing of civil disobedience.
Following a request from police, Forestry Corporation yesterday extended a public access ban – first imposed in January – until the end of the month.
Western Region assistant commissioner Geoff McKechnie said the ban would continue until police were confident that protesters did not pose a risk to public safety.
“The impact of the activities of these people who are placing themselves in danger by entering the roadway to stop vehicles is a significant concern and I understand the impact it has on people who have a genuine need to use the roads,” he said.
“But there’s a significant risk of someone being struck by a vehicle and injured. The solution is to protest peacefully where those activities don’t involve the commission of offences and NSW Police are happy to facilitate that.”
But the move has been described by Maules Creek resident Roslyn Druce, who was arrested on Monday for her part in the rally, as “one big April Fool’s joke” after she was prohibited from having about 30 friends – also fellow protesters – over to her house.
“We have to question why Maules Creek residents are not only subjected to police lock downs on public roads, barred access from our state forest, but also denied freedom to access our properties,” she said.