A woman who deliberately brought the Sydney Harbour Tunnel to a standstill earlier this year has been spared punishment after a court accepted she was traumatised by the Lismore floods, and dismissed the charges against her on mental health grounds.
Lismore resident Mali Cooper, 22, was charged with entering the major roadway and disrupting vehicles after she stopped her car across the southbound entrance to the tunnel, placing a bike lock around her neck and the steering wheel.
Under NSW’s tough new laws targeting disruptive activism, Cooper’s actions, which kicked off two days of climate protests by the Blockade Australia group, could have left her with a fine of up to $22,000 or a two-year jail sentence.
Cooper had pleaded guilty to the June 27 action and was “ready for jail” when she fronted Lismore Local Court on Tuesday, her lawyer Mark Davis said – but was “hugely relieved” when Magistrate Jeff Linden dismissed the charges on mental health grounds.
He said Cooper “probably went a step further than she intended” when she came to Sydney to protest, and she regretted “the distress it created for anyone in that traffic jam”.
Cooper is “not resiling from her beliefs in the environmental catastrophe”, he said, but she had “decided to do something that in a more rational state she might not have done” after seeing her home town “obliterated twice in just a couple of months”.
Four people died and thousands were rendered homeless in the record-breaking flood that hit Lismore on February 28, leaving parts of the Northern Rivers town under several metres of water as the Wilsons River peaked more than three metres higher than forecast.
Due to the particulars of Cooper’s case, Davis, who represents several other protesters who were charged after taking part in the Blockade Australia action, said the outcome won’t set any precedent for the courts’ approach to the enhanced penalties introduced by the NSW government in March.
“This is an extraordinarily repressive piece of legislation unbecoming of Australia and the conventions that we normally follow. It’s off the charts. It was great to see it avoided today,” Davis said.