In Defence of Australia

In the streets and market places
The debris has been swept clean
But the atoms of uranium keep poisoning:
These can not be seen.
                       Legacy of the Gulf War by Dawn Joyce
US Spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs

In 1975 after Gough Whitlam turned a blind eye to Indonesian military invasion of East Timor I remember him being asked by a reporter what was going on. His reply: “You will have to ask the Americans.”  I think Gough was referring to the CIA.

There don’t seem to be many big fans of current federal attorney general, George Brandis; some may even think George is a lap dog of the Americans. Under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act (1952), Brandis is the ‘sole decision maker’ of whether to prosecute five peace activists for singing a lament at the gates of the apocalypse, otherwise known as the US spy base at Pine Gap in Australia’s heart.

Sound a bit over the top, well yes, but this is Queen’s Birthday long weekend and Bookshelves Brandis is probably asking his American friends whether to play it cool or to scare off this new wave of concern about unwelcome American tenants. Custodians of Arrernte country reject the base stating sovereignty was never ceded.

George’s conundrum? Should I invoke cold war laws against six ‘peace pilgrims’ or let the NT police treat it as simple trespass with a maximum fine of $5,000? Under special undertakings to United States of America the six activists are up for a maximum penalty of seven years jail. And all this just for walking onto the US spy base and singing a lament for lives lost in military conflicts co-ordinated through CIA communications antennae inside those ghostly domes!

According to research done by Des Ball, Bill Robinson and Richard Tanter, Pine Gap performs three basic functions:

  1. Signals intelligence – Pine Gap is a ground base for three military satellites that pick up radio signals and a vast amount of data that is distributed throughout the US military. By tracking people’s mobile phones Pine Gap contributes targeting data to American drone operations, including assassinations.
  2. Relay Station for Early warning of missile launches particularly in regions like the Middle East and East Asia
  3. Listening in on telecommunications including mobile phones. These intercepts are similar to mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks of US National Security Agency phone tapping; likewise, Pine Gap monitors everybody’s phone calls, even those of the wife of the Indonesian President.

This expert troika claim that Pine Gap is immensely important to the US military. It works in with other bases around the world mainly in New Zealand and in Yorkshire, England. This makes Pine Gap a military target together with satellites that it controls. Should war break out with China, an intercontinental ballistic missile may strike Pine Gap to blind US satellite surveillance.


Resistance against foreign military bases
In May 1974, several hundred demonstrators travelled in convoy by bus across Australia to North West Cape in Western Australia to protest against the US military base used to communicate with submerged submarines equipped with nuclear missiles. The “marchers” wanted to symbolically reclaim the base for the Australian people.

On Remembrance Day 11 November 1983, ‘Women for Survival’ organised a peace camp that brought 800 women to the gates of the base in an action similar to women in the UK who set up a camp at a RAF base used for the storage of nuclear-armed cruise missiles on Greenham Common. That camp lasted 19 years.

The main aim of the 1983 Australian women’s camp was to draw people’s attention to ‘the dangers of Pine Gap’ and to demand ‘termination of the lease in 1986’ by the Hawke Labor government. The women had a second demand supporting land rights and self-determination for aboriginal people and cessation of uranium mining. They conducted a ceremony outside the US base in support of Karen Silkwood who was a technician at a US nuclear power station and who died under suspicious circumstances on her way to meet a New York Times journalist to discuss safety infringements at the plant.

In response to the ‘survival camp’, the government ordered that NT police arrest 111 women at the gates of the US spy base. When reporters asked Northern Territory police spokesperson, Sergeant Daryl Manzil, why police did not charge the women under Defence (Special Undertakings) Act, he replied: “You don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Which is exactly what the state did. Forgetting the sergeant’s words, on 15 June 2007 the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory of Australia at Alice Springs sentenced the Pine Gap 4 – Jim Dowling, Bryan Law, Adele Goldie and Donna Mulhearn on charges of damaging Commonwealth property, contrary to section 29 Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), entering a prohibited area, contrary to section 9(1) Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 (Cth) and use of a camera in a prohibited area, contrary to section 17(1) Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 (Cth).

However these ‘citizen inspectors’ won their appeal and were released from Darwin jail where they were held in harsh conditions with Indonesian fishermen; the NT Supreme court ruled that the onus lay on the prosecution to prove that their action compromised the defence of Australia.

Enter Kevin Rudd who, in 2008, introduced federal legislation that says Pine Gap is for the defence of Australia. So called ‘separation of powers’ between Parliament, Executive, and Judiciary, go out the door when it comes to the ‘joint facility’ at Pine Gap. The court can’t hear charges against Pine Gap trespassers without the attorney general’s authority, at least according to Judge Daynor Trigg in the local court.

On Thursday 29th September 2016, Trigg ordered the legislation requires ‘authority to prosecute‘ from the attorney general before prosecution proceeds. He added that the law states that ‘prosecution’ starts with charging the five and so he couldn’t hear the charges without consent from George Brandis. The judge had no choice but to let all five go, caustically referring to the drafting and clumsiness of the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act condemning it as a nonsense several times.

As Rumpole would say, “O Righteous Judge!”

George’s spin-doctors are no doubt angry, having to deal both with peace pilgrims and with a judge citing black letter law at federal prosecutors. But who can argue with the judge perhaps more at ease dismissing charges of assault against burly guards at Dondale than hearing complaints against peace pilgrims under cold war legislation.

The law says only the attorney general can prefer charges against people who insist on walking across red earth and through scrub in the night-time to challenge a decision taken by Harold Holt 50 years previous to allow the CIA to set up a secret base on Australian soil for a peppercorn rent. And not just there, at Exmouth in Western Australia as well. Originally Pine Gap was to monitor Soviet rockets and North-West Cape, named Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt, was built to relay orders to US submarines to fire nuclear missiles upon Soviet targets.

Perhaps the experts are right, these bases may become ground zero during a nuclear war with either Russia or China. Mutually assured destruction on land not fully colonised.

Prime Minister Holt went along with the deception that Pine Gap was a weather station and when that became implausible his government claimed that it was a space research base rather than reveal its real purpose as a CIA communications centre for global war. Yet another reason not ‘to leave the porch light on for Harold Holt’ who disappeared in the sea off Portsea in Victoria not long after handing over these ‘joint facilities’ to the United States.

Currently, private contractors Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, and the computer systems supplier, Hewlett-Packard take care of the day-to-day operation of the bases. And Wilson Security provides the muscle to keep people and kangaroos away.


Veteran activist returns to Pine Gap
Spurred on by Australian involvement in the 2003 Iraq war, Jimmy Dowling, a veteran of both incursions, together with Adele Goldie, managed to penetrate the inner perimeter and climb one of the buildings at the base. According to one of their accomplices, Donna Mulhearn, they were part of ‘a daggy affinity-group action’ involving six people on the ground and a few supporters in Alice Springs and elsewhere. Donna had returned from Iraq where she was a human shield during the 12-day horrific bombing of Baghdad called ‘shock and awe’.

On Wednesday night 28th September 2016, five people including Jimmy walked across the desert to enter the outer perimeter of Pine Gap thus mimicking the intrusion in 2005. This time Australian Federal Police (AFP) were more alert and arrested the five before they could get too close to the base. Margaret decided to perform a musical lament on viola, an improvised response to stories of frontier and war. Police moved in to arrest all five, Jim Dowling, Margaret Pestorius, Andy Paine, Tim Webb and Franz Dowling. In doing so police were acting without express written consent of the attorney general, an omission that would bring subsequent prosecution undone, at least for a time. Margaret’s plaintive lament on viola was accompanied by Franz Dowling with a Palestinian flag stuck to the body of his guitar.

Police took the five to the watchhouse at Alice Springs confiscated Margaret’s mobile phone and brought them before the court charged with unlawful entry:

(1) A person commits an offence if:

(a) the person is in, enters or flies over an area; and
(b)  the area is a prohibited area.

Note:  The defendant bears an evidential burden in relation to the matter in subsection (1A). See subsection 13.3(3) of the Criminal Code. Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 7 years. DEFENCE (SPECIAL UNDERTAKINGS) ACT 1952 – SECT 9

Unknown to the AFP yet another pilgrim was wandering around the base, far beyond Farmer Brown’s fence inside the perimeter, along the creek. Pauli Christie was there for days. So now the Pine Gap five had become six. Only Margie Pestorius and Pauli gave statements to the police. Both Andy and Margie were also charged with making use of a camera within a prohibited area. Maximum Penalty: 7 years imprisonment. At the Talisman Sabre biennial war games in Shoalwater Bay in central Queensland the fine for use of a camera is $100. Laughable.

And let us not forget the Quaker Grannies for Peace. They served croissants on the road to Pine Gap. No charges laid. George was probably too busy having tea and scones at government house in honour of the Queen to worry about the grannies. From time to time, one of them, Dawn Joyce can be seen around the sacred fire in Musgrave Park in South Brisbane supporting the Sovereign Women United mob in their attempts to get their grandchildren out of the clutches of Queensland’s Department of Children’s services.

To quote Granny Dawn’s poem about the legacy of the Iraq war:

The women still wail in Fallujah
Death of deformed children is slow
For those terrible weapons were used here:
The grief started years ago.
                            - Dawn Joyce


Earlier on Monday 26 September 2016 Andy Paine, one of the Pine Gap six, held up a placard – ‘War, what is it good for?’ as Franz and Margaret played their lament.

And then there is the story of David Sprigg who was arrested inside the Special Air Services (SAS) base on Swan Island in Port Phillip Bay. Goons ground his head into the dirt giving him a bloody nose, swore at and abused him and placed a hood over his head, Guantanamo style. David was so badly beaten that he later said those SAS don’t need weapons they could kill you with their bare hands. The Swan Island base seems to share their buildings with Australian Security Intelligence Service (ASIS) and the US military. Defence experts call it interoperability. David was acquitted of trespass of the base and now, assisted by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, is seeking compensation for injuries received. ‘At least’, David said, ‘we closed the base for a day’.

Margie Pestorius may need to write an opera before all this is over.

Ian Curr
6 Oct 2016

Photo of Pine Gap by Chris White. Pine Gap is about 20 kms south-west of Alice Springs in the centre of Australia.

The Long March
Pine Gap on Trial
Richard Tanter on Pine Gap
Liberating Pine Gap
Don’t Just Blame The Guards: Don Dale Is What Systemic Violence Looks like
Background on the court ruling of #closepinegap protesters

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