PROTESTERS accused of obstructing Newcastle coal trains are facing a charge carrying a maximum penalty of 25 years behind bars, but activists say they will not be dissuaded from non-violent action by "draconian overreach".
Commissioner Fuller said he had sought legal advice, warning that the climate change disruptions could constitute offences under Section 211 of the Crimes Act. That section pertains to actions endangering life on railways, a risk protesters were quick to say they had not taken. A strike force has been established to combat the Newcastle protests, which entered their ninth day on Tuesday.
"The ongoing protests are placing public safety at risk and endangering the lives of all those who use the rail network," Mr Fuller said.
Police laid further charges against a 28-year-old Victorian woman after she was arrested in the Hunter on Monday morning, including endanger safety of person on railway and do act with intent to kill or injure person on railway.
She had previously been charged with hinder working of mining equipment and cause obstruction to railway locomotive or rolling stock.
A 24-year-old woman, also from Victoria, who was arrested at Sandgate has been similarly charged.
Both were due to face court again on Tuesday.
Police also said they expected to charge a 40-year-old man arrested on Tuesday at Kooragang Island after he allegedly infiltrated a coal loader and shut it down before dawn.
Earlier, Mr Fuller said "young ladies who were given bail yesterday and walked out of court laughing" would face extra charges that carry a maximum 25-year sentence.
"These matters will hopefully hold up in court," he told Sydney radio station 2GB.
"If you think about the danger that some of these passenger trains on those lines travelling at 160km/h ... you could see hundreds of people die," Mr Fuller said.
"So I think those charges are absolutely appropriate and we are looking forward to support from the judiciary to see those people held to account."
A Blockade Australia spokesperson said "threatening protesters with 25-year prison sentences for blocking coal trains without causing physical harm to anyone is a draconian overreach of police power".
The organisation said it would "continue to take sustained and disruptive action in response to Australia's leading role in the climate and ecological crisis for as long as necessary".
"These overblown charges are nothing more than the posturing of a state threatened by the power of safe, non-violent, collective action," the group said in a statement.
"The system is rigged against us, it is designed to extract and exploit. We have seen that we will not achieve meaningful action on the climate crisis through the avenues within that system."
Police Minister David Elliott said the government "will not tolerate protesters undermining commuter activities and causing significant damage to these local industries which employ people from across the region".
Opposition police spokesman Walt Secord backed the creation of a taskforce he said targeted "idiots" who were "not even locals".
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