Protester denied insurance cover

AS OPPOSITION to coal seam gas mining in the region grows, one local has a stark warning for protesters who plan to take to the streets.

Byron Bay resident Gareth Smith, a former United Nations district electoral officer, said he is unable to obtain car or home insurance from most major insurance companies because he committed offences during protests.

He was fined $16,000 in 1999 for climbing onto Parliament House and writing "Shame, Australia, shame" at the height of the East Timor massacre and has been arrested during several anti-nuclear protests.

The activist was initially shocked to find himself unable to gain insurance from NRMA, Allianz, GIO, QBE and other large companies.

"If I've been charged for arson or larceny, surely that would give them grounds to deny me a policy. But what is the connection to taking part in an anti-nuclear protest?" he said.

An Allianz spokesman said the company does not generally provide home or motor insurance to people who have been convicted of criminal offences involving drugs, dishonesty, arson, theft, fraud or violence against a person or property in the past five years.

He added that the restrictions also apply to people who permanently reside with the non-covered individual or who use the same vehicle.

An Insurance Australia Group Limited spokeswoman said protesters are not automatically denied cover but that "individual circumstances" may impact on people's eligibility.

"Some customers' histories may warrant the refusal of insurance through us, however these are typically related more to financial/insurance related matters," she said.

According to Southern Cross University law lecturer Aidan Ricketts, protesters who are charged during demonstrations are often shown leniency under Section 10 of the Crimes Act as their actions are deemed to be in the public interest.

And, while Mr Smith's actions may have been in the public interest, Mr Ricketts said defacing a building is considered malicious damage and therefore more serious than most other charges laid during protests.

"The vast majority of charges for non-violent direct action are very simple summary offences, like obstruction. I can't see why they'd have any insurance consequences at all," Mr Ricketts said.

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