Hero or Villain?

Levi Parsons explores the line between advocacy and civil disobedience with a local activist.

Standing up for your beliefs and fighting against authority is an inherent Australian characteristic. Our national ballad is the story of a sheep thief and one of our greatest national icons was a hardened outlaw. From the Eureka Rebellion to the Mabo Trials, there is nothing more inspiring than an underdog figure seeking justice and a fair go.

Environmental activist, Andy Mason, 21, has spent the last few years protesting, demonstrating, rallying and lobbying against everything from coal-seam gas and coal mine expansions to the WestConnex freeway.

The Dulwich Hill geology student is a staunch supporter of Indigenous rights as well as action on climate change. He is a member of Australian Student Environment Network and the Sydney University Environment Collective.

“My first understanding of environmental issues came when I was about 10,” Andy says. “At the time there was a proposal to build a bypass near my home in the Blue Mountains. It would have destroyed bushlands that were really important habitat for native parrots. My family were upset about it because they were birdwatchers. They hadn’t been involved in anything like it before, but they joined local groups and from that point nature and conservation was a big interest.”

But this passion for conservation often lands him in trouble with the police.

“I was arrested about 18 months ago at the Maules Creek blockade (near Tamworth) for attaching myself to a piece of equipment that they were using to clear forest.”

The Mauls Creek Blockade was a three year-long campaign against a new coal mine in the area.

“I felt like it was a legitimate way of expressing my position,” he says. “Through my experiences with the campaign, I felt the political process and the planning process weren’t accurately reflecting the public interest. Given the system that we’re up against sometimes, I didn’t feel like it was wrong for me to break the law.

“I definitely do not think it’s something people should do willy nilly. But if you have followed the proper process and written submissions with the support of local community, as well as lobbied government and they’re still not listening, there is a natural progression following with demonstrations and civil disobedience. Often the more you are ignored, the more you have to stridently put your foot forward.”

However, Andy does believe there is a limit to civil disobedience. “The line is anything that is aggressive or violent against people or property,” he says. “But, it’s up to grass-roots community groups to organise and send a strong message about what kind of environmental policies we want and what kind of society we want.”