TWO anti-coal seam gas campaigners fined after disrupting work at Santos’s project near Narrabri have had their convictions overturned on appeal.
Armidale grandmother Pat Schultz and Coonamble farmer Ted Borowski were fined $2200 and $3300 respectively after their arrests earlier this year.
In separate actions a month apart, the protesters locked themselves to equipment Santos was using in its exploratory drilling program in the Pilliga.
But Ms Schultz and Mr Borowski took their cases to the District Court in Sydney yesterday where Judge Michael Finnane ruled in their favour.
The decision to wipe their fines and expunge their criminal records comes just days after NSW Premier Mike Baird announced a crackdown on protesters.
At a dinner with mining heavyweights last week, Mr Baird said the government would increase penalties for people who break into mines, damage equipment or disrupt work.
Protesters have plagued the operations of Santos in the Pilliga and Whitehaven Coal in the Leard State Forest for more than a year with “direct action” stunts.
Ms Schultz, 63, who had no prior convictions, said the judge’s ruling had exceeded her expectations.
“We argued that the sentence was too severe and our barrister (from the Environmental Defender’s Office) requested a Section 10 to overturn the conviction,” she said.
“I expected I might get a reduction in the fine but be left with the conviction – that was what I was anticipating.
“I couldn’t believe it.”
Ms Schultz said protests such as hers had played a vital role in increasing government safeguards surrounding the coal seam gas industry.
“It will be very interesting to see what path (Mr Baird) takes,” she said. “Is he going to start jailing all the farmers and other people who don’t agree with him?
“Coal seam gas mining and agriculture do not mix. I hope that this protest movement stops coal seam gas mining in this area.”