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Persistent forest protester jailed in Tasmania

Colette Joan Harmsen

A Tasmanian forest protester has been sentenced to three months’ jail – the first time in a decade anyone in the state has served time for environmental activism. Sources: The Mercury, Timberbiz

Colette Joan Harmsen, 47, raised her fist in defiance as she was led away by court security in the Hobart Magistrates Court on Friday.

“Doing it for the forests,” she proclaimed after her sentence was handed down by Magistrate Chris Webster.

The Tinderbox resident pleaded guilty to four counts of trespass, two breaches of bail, failing to obey the direction of a police officer, and wilfully obstructing the use of a road.

But it was three counts of breaching a suspended sentence that ultimately landed her in jail, with Mr Webster saying he was not satisfied it would be unjust to activate the three-month term.

Mr Webster said he would not take into account late submissions from prosecutors, who argued Ms Harmsen should be sentenced with 2022’s new anti-protest laws in mind.

Ms Harmsen, who has appeared in court and pleaded guilty to trespass on nine separate occasions since 2010, had been handed a suspended sentence in November 2021 for trespass during a protest at the Wentworth Hills forest.

She then breached that suspended sentence by repeatedly locking herself on to an excavator at a Bob Brown Foundation protest at a Rosebery mine between 2021 and March this year, refusing to leave when directed to do so.

Mr Webster said the court had given Ms Harmsen “every opportunity”.

But he said the present case was of “similar if not identical nature” to the original offending.

“The original penalty was intended to discourage the defendant from continuing her illegal protest activities,” Mr Webster said.

“It’s obvious the defendant intended to continue the course of conduct for which she is charged.

“Indeed, she states to community corrections that she intends to continue on her activities in any event.”

For the matters other than the breached suspended sentence, Mr Webster convicted Ms Harmsen and gave her a six-month suspended sentence.

The Tasmanian Forest Products Association welcomed the decision by the Tasmanian Magistrates Court to gaol Colette Harmsen who it described as a “persistent forestry protest pest”.

Chief Executive Officer of the Tasmanian Forest Products Association, Nick Steel, said the court made the right decision, and was further proof that green protestors are knowingly breaking the law and causing huge loses to local Tasmanian businesses.

“Tasmanian families are sick to death of their livelihoods being jeopardised by these ill-informed, attention seeking protestors. Today’s decision is a line in the sand. Those wanting to stop legal Tasmanian businesses from operating now face gaol time for their illegal protests,” Mr Steel said.

“This ‘anything but forestry’ attitude needs to change. It is outdated rhetoric that is not supported by the science, the community, or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“The community has moved on from these childish antics. It really is time for a mature discussion about the benefits that our industry provides to the community, the state, and the environment.

“Calls to stop forestry simply stops the renewable process of growing trees, drawing carbon from the atmosphere, producing carbon storing building materials and planting more trees.

“Not to mention that timber provides solutions to plastic waste and reduces our reliance on non-renewable and carbon intensive building products. It’s an outdated and naïve approach to climate protection.

“In Tasmania we have got this balance right with some of the highest levels of forest protection in the world and a sustainable model that sees every tree harvested regrown for the future”.

Mr Steel said ongoing illegal green protests were total hypocrisy and achieved the opposite of the intent – which was to end deforestation and develop sustainable local production.

“They are completely at odds with the work of Tasmanian timber businesses. We don’t cause deforestation in Tasmanian forests. Every tree harvested is replanted,” Mr Steel said.

The mis-guided attempts by green groups will simply make our insatiable demand for timber another country’s problem to deal with,” Mr Steel said.

“If we are serious, we must increase, not decrease, the ability of Australians to source timber locally rather than import it from countries that do conduct deforestation.

After the hearing, Bob Brown Foundation campaign manager Jenny Weber said it was believed to be the first time ever a woman in Tasmania had been jailed over environmental protesting.

“As long as this planet heats from the global climate emergency, and we’re seeing the extinction of species, the race to extinction for swift parrots, Tasmanian devils – which are so dear to Colette -people will keep standing up and protesting,” she said.

“It’s in our blood that we will stand there in front of those bulldozers and protect those forests.”