Report from a trip to Oz
|At our last Global Network
meeting in Leeds it was suggested that we should meet in 2002 in Australia
- home to Pine Gap the US base that is earmarked (along with Menwith Hill
in the UK) as a ground-based relay station for the SBIRS component of
President Bush's Star Wars plans. After some discussion it was decided
that most people wouldn't be able to afford to get to Australia and that
we would hold our meeting in San Francisco. However, it was suggested
that, if at all possible, someone from the GN should visit groups in
Australia and make contacts to expand our network.
Well, I was lucky enough to be able to take advantage of a trip to Melbourne for my work in order to do a brief speaking tour and meet up with a few peace groups. I went with stocks of leaflets, newsletters, stickers and other materials from the Global Network, Yorkshire CND and the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases - all of which was distributed along the way - so, here is my report on an enjoyable, action packed trip 'down under'.
It started in Melbourne where I spent three days attending an engineering conference for my 'day job'. There I met up with Jacob Grech from the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition who had helped organise my Australian tour. Jacob is buildings manager of the Victorian Trades Hall (which, he tells me is the oldest Trades Hall in the world!). It is an impressive building in which labour unions meet, work and organise and where mobile phones are likely to play "The Internationale".
At that time comrades were very busy organising a Palm Sunday rally for asylum seekers and human rights. The media was covering the scandal arising from an inquiry launched over the Federal Government's use of the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD - the Australian spy agency) to tap into communications between the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Tampa last August.
The Tampa was the Norwegian freighter that was carrying asylum seekers to Australia when it was involved in a standoff with the Australian government who denied it access. This occurred just before the general election and soon became a red-hot election issue with the Australian premier John Howard accusing the boat people of throwing their children overboard to gain sympathy. He won the election but later had to retract his accusations as being unfounded. The Defence Minister Robert Hill has not denied that communications were monitored or that secretly recorded conversations were passed on to the government to help determine its political response to the standoff. The DSD was set up after World War II to collect foreign signals intelligence and has no powers to monitor domestic communications of Australians. There can be little doubt that the NSA were involved in the communications surveillance through their echelon station at Geraldton.
To Sydney - Thursday 28th February
After the conference I was attending had finished Jacob helped with transport to the airport in the afternoon and I flew off to Sydney where I was met by Dennis Doherty the National Coordinator of the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition who are organising the October demonstration at Pine Gap. Dennis had put together a packed schedule. First we met up over lunch with John Hallam from Friends of the Earth - who you will know as the originator of so much email information and so many fax campaigns.
This was followed by meetings in the Anti-Bases office where we were joined by Hannah. First off was an interview with Anna Pha from The Guardian newspaper and then a meeting with representatives from: the Anti-Bases Coalition, Friends of the Earth, CFMEU (Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union), New South Wales Teachers Federation, Independent Education Union, Greenpeace, Women's Electoral Lobby, and a former Australian Labour party Senator.
After this we went to the office of Senator Vikki Bourne (Australian Democrat - Federal Senator for New South Wales who is sympathetic to our campaign but unfortunately lost her seat in the last election and so is in the last few days of her senatorship). Here we met with her advisor who was interested in what we had to say - but it isn't clear what influence he will have with whoever takes Vikki's place.
Final business in Sydney was a public meeting at the local University - hosted by the students' environmental society. This was attended by about 20-30 young students who were not really aware of the issues and were somewhat surprised to see the pages of Vision 2020 etc. I talked about the militarisation of space and the Global Network, Dennis and Hannah cover the Anti-Bases Campaign in Australia. I think we recruited quite a few young people to the planned demonstration at Pine Gap in October (more of which later).
That evening Dennis and Hannah gave me a whirlwind tour of Sydney ending with a couple of beers in an Irish pub before they dropped me off at my motel. Sydney is a beautiful city and I wish I had been able to see more of it.
Next morning Dennis picked me up from my motel at about 5am to take me to the airport to fly back to Melbourne.
Back to Melbourne - Friday 1st March
Picked up from the airport by Jacob who had arranged for me to address the Executive Council of the Trades Hall. I was given time on the packed agenda (which also covered issues such as the recent collapse of the Australian Airline Ansett and the Royal Commission into the Building Industry - both of which are major issues to the Trade Unions) to explain why I was in Australia - to highlight the role of the US military bases there. There was considerable interest (especially in the fact that the UK government has used the NSA base at Menwith Hill to spy on ministers and unions) and Jacob will be following this up by distributing documents and information about what goes on in the UK at Menwith Hill and at the Australian sister base at Pine Gap.
Earlier in the day I had a phone interview with Dave Richardson from the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company) about the public meeting we were holding in Alice Springs (the nearest town to the Pine Gap base) and another interview with Glen Morrison, a reporter from the "Centralian Advocate" in Alice Springs.
Jacob had also arranged a later meeting with members of the Interfaith Group. Also present were Bilal Cleeland from the Islamic Council of Victoria and Dave Keran fom the Budhist Peace Fellowship. We had a most constructive meeting in which it was decided that funds should be raised to help send Jacob to the GN meeting in California this May and that they would try and get Karl's film "Return of Star Wars" shown on public television - perhaps with an added Australian introduction by Jacob.
That evening we had a public meeting - Jacob spoke on some of the history of Pine Gap (see later) and I gave my presentation to about 20-30 people in the Trades Hall. Then back to Jacob and Kate's for the night - thanks to Kate, Max, Rosie and Arno for putting up with this pommie stranger.
On to Alice Springs and Pine Gap - Saturday 2nd March
The next morning Jacob and I were up reasonably early to catch the 9:25 plane to Alice Springs. Alice Springs is just a few kilometers from the Pine Gap spy base and as the plane swung round to land we caught site of the base though the plane window. At the airport we noted the special area allocated for those on official business with the base - we unofficial visitors were met by Scott and Sonia. I did notice the change in temperature here - often in the 30s and sometimes in the 40s centigrade.
Scott has written a brief history of protest at Pine Gap which we will post on the web-site as soon as I can get an electronic version. At the airport we had time for a quick beer and met up with Gareth Smith who was arriving from Byron Bay before being whisked straight off to the home of local journalist Kieran Finnane from The Alice Springs News who interviewed us for an extended article. Scott had had a letter published in this paper advertising our public meeting in the latest edition.
After a pleasant lunch in the sunshine at Scott's place - where we met up with Mark - we went on to the meeting house for the public meeting. As it turned out this was the biggest meeting of its kind for many years. Jacob, Gareth and I spoke to over 70 local people who expressed concern about the role of the base and many showed an interest in developing the campaign and the October demonstration.
Jacob was the first speaker and outlined some basic relevant Australian history. In the 1950s the US government was looking for a treaty with Japan but Australia had a 'White Australian Policy' at that time and wouldn't sign, so the US put together the ANZUS Treaty to help get Australia on-line and is still important to the development of an Australian defence policy (even though the US has never given a commitment to . The Status of US forces in Australia (1953) which gives the US the ability to set up their bases without recourse to Australian laws. The agreement for a Joint Space Research Facility (later the Joint Defence Research Facility) at Pine Gap in Central Australia was made in 1963. In 1973/4 Pine Gap was put on full alert while involved in intelligence gathering for Israel. This caused some controversy as Australia was supposed to be neutral. The Prime Minister at that time, Gough Whitlam, decided that the activities at Pine Gap should be looked at more closely - which resulted in his being sacked by the Governor General in the name of the Queen! (see Jacob's brilliant new and informative website www.ozpeace.net for more details). Pine Gap was used by the US when it moved in to support Afghanistan in the 1980s and in the Gulf War in the 1990s. In 1999 the Australian Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and Obligations could not find out anything about what goes on at Pine Gap from the US - although a group of US Congressmen were given a tour and a briefing of its role.
Jacob then gave a brief history of the development of ballistic missile defence technology from the point of view of the corporations (and especially the expansion of TRW).
The I gave my presentation on missile defence, the militarisation of space, the GN and the role of the US bases at Fylingdales, Menwith Hill and Pine Gap. This was followed by a stirring speech by Gareth who described his experiences in East Timor and US imperialism. We also outlined the demonstration planned for October 5-7 as part of the GNs call for a week of international action.
There were many questions and much discussion and a large number of people expressed an interest in a further meeting to coordinate activities. There had been large demonstrations at the base back in the 1980s and people present had taken part in those. There were concerns expressed that any demonstrations should involve local people in their planning. It is local people who have to live with the base all year round - the base is seen to be a good source of income for many local people (although the exact details of how much and to whom are unknown - this same message is always used on local people near US bases to make them feel economically dependent on the existence of the base). One suggestion was that the demonstration slogan could be changed from "Close Pine Gap" to "Open Pine Gap" - signifying that Australians are particularly concerned about its secrecy and accountability.
After the meeting we were driven out into the bush for a take-away dinner under the southern stars. Gareth and I were staying at Scott's were soon asleep after a busy day. The next morning we were just a bit surprised to find Scott with a bruised eye and with his arm a sling. He had come off his bike rushing to a party the night before and fractured his arm! Apart from being painful this was a nuisance as he couldn't drive and would have to have a few days off work at a rather busy time.
Jacob and Gareth were moving on later that afternoon but not before we spent some time trying to get a close look at Pine Gap. This proved rather difficult - we drove up to the gates of the base and around and about trying to find a good vantage point and looking for good places that could be used in October. This base is very difficult to get a close look at - surrounded by hills it is neatly tucked away out of sight. So after driving around through the bush for some time we eventually made out way to the airport to drop them off.
The next day Scott and I talked to a few people he knew had found a good vantage point to see the base from. Some friends of his working on aborigine rock paintings had seen the base from the top of a near-by hill. We set off with a guide who had climbed the hill a number of times. However this time, about half way up the hill we were warned off by the landowner who told us he didn't want us there. Scott tried to explain that we just wanted to get a view of Pine Gap - but he insisted that we wouldn't be able to see it from there anyway (although our guide knew that we could - she had been there many times in the past few months and never been warned off before!). So we dropped our guide back and spent a while studying the map and driving round looking for another place from which to spy on the spy base. We tried another nearby hill not on the farmer's land but when we reached the top all we could see was the very tip of one radome! Ah well - then it was time for me to catch my next plane.
Adelaide - Monday 4th March
The only flight I could get to Adelaide arrived at 7:40 pm and I was met by Don who took me to the public meeting arranged for that night. It had started with a showing of Karl's video and then I spoke about the role of the UK and Australian bases in Star Wars and the militarisation of space. Among the audience of about 40 was Hilde who came to the GN meeting in Leeds last year.
The meeting had been organised by the Australian Peace Committee (South Australian Branch) and my hosts were Irene Gale and Ron Gray who have been active in the peace and human rights movements in Australia for some time and they produced this great leaflet for the event:
After the meeting I gave a recorded interview to Roman Orszanski for his 3DFM radio environmental program.
Then Ron and Irene took me home It was great to hear of their experiences and about the big demonstrations at Pine Gap in the 1980s - they have a wonderful display of photographs and memorabilia of those times.
Next morning Irene and Ron had arranged a live broadcast on ABC radio at 9:05 with Matt Abraham and David Bevan - they had two professors of strategic studies (from different universities) also lined up to participate. We think they were expecting some disagreement and were quite surprised to find we all agreed that the militarisation of space was not a good idea! After this there was another recorded interview for another 3DFM radio program - "EcoNoise" which covers music, interviews and environmental issues - followed by a 10 minute recorded interview for Radio Adelaide with Annie Hartwell.
So - good coverage on the airways of Adelaide!
There was just enough time for me to take a couple of pictures of Adelaide (it was festival time!) before moving on to the airport for the final stage of the trip ...
Perth - Tuesday 5th March
I was met at Perth airport by Judy Blyth who is branch coordinator for the Western Australia Branch of the Medical Association for Prevention of War. Judy took me for a brief (30 minutes) tour of some of the city highlights had done some sterling work in advertising the meeting to be held that evening. First though I had a telephone interview with a Sunday Times reporter and then to the ABC Radio studios for a lot on the 5:20 "Drive" program.
Then back to Judy's for a bite to eat and a brief look at the news before making our way to the public meeting:
That's some leaflet to live up to!
We had about 60-70 people in the audience to see the video and hear me speak about Menwith Hill and Pine Gap's role in Star Wars. There were lots of questions afterwards!
That was it - I stayed at Judy and John's that night and Judy took me to the airport early next morning for the long journey home.
I would like to thank everyone involved for helping to make the trip so worthwhile. I thnk we got a reasonable amount of media coverage - lots of work went into that and organising all the public meetings - so special thanks to all the wonderful people I met, especially Jacob, Dennis, Hannah, Scott, Irene, Ron, Judy and all the others involved.
Australia is a great country - with incredible scenery - in all the traveling, meetings, broadcasts and discussion I did not meet one person who defended the idea of Star Wars or the militarisation and weaponisation of space. From the meetings it was clear that there this is a lot of support for the demonstration at Pine Gap in October -it will be a wonderful focus for protest and highlighting the Australian role in Star Wars.
Thanks, best wishes and more power to all those engaged in organising and informing and I'm looking forward to seeing you all again somewhere, sometime.
The following press release was eventually sent to Miles Kemp of the Advertiser in South Australia. He had asked for 500 words (this is slightly over) on the subject of the meeting in Adelaide. It was (I think) started by Hannah from Sydney who emailed 860 words to Jacob in Melbourne - which were slightly altered and reduced by and then sent on and eventually reduced to its final form by Irene in Adelaide (I think that's right - I got a bit confused with what was going back and forth) - anyway the final version might be useful for some other purpose - so here it is:
September 11 gave a huge boost to the United States plans to move full-speed ahead on a ‘Star Wars’ program. Despite the fact that space weapons would be no defence against "suitcase" bombs or the kind of attack on the twin towers, Star Wars supporters are riding high and the aerospace industry are set to receive massive profits from defence contracts.
If NMD goes ahead industries such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and TRW, will profit. They donate huge sums to the Republican Party and aggressively lobby Capitol Hill on defence spending - with no regard for the safety and well-being of the world.
England and Australia are front line states in Star Wars plans, through their military facilities at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill (Yorkshire, England) and Pine Gap (near Alice Springs). They will be Ground Based Relay Stations for a new space based missile tracking system, called SBIRS (Space-Based Infra-Red System), to be operational by 2004.
The National Missile Defence (NMD) program involves developing a system to intercept ballistic missiles targeted on the US. However, NMD is not a benign, defensive umbrella, but a controversial space battle system to control space for the US alone. That is not a defensive posture.
In order to deploy NMD, President Bush has notified that the US will withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. Therefore, other existing arms control and nuclear disarmament treaties may collapse. The response to NMD will undoubtedly lead to development of more missiles to overcome it - and a new, more dangerous arms race in space.
Australia is almost alone in giving strong public support to Star Wars, but its development involves massive secrecy and denial of national sovereignty. Australia’s parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has complained that MPs are kept in the dark about Pine Gap.
A September 1995 State Department letter warned that if the US admitted running electronic eavesdropping satellites in space, there would be "undesirable repercussions" in nations hosting intelligence gathering stations such as Pine Gap and Menwith Hill.
The US space military program is part of a broader program to make space a new arena of war. A January 2001 report of the "Space Commission" chaired by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld states: "In the coming period the US will conduct operations to, from, in and through space in support of its national interests both on the earth and in space."
The US Space Command’s 1996 “Vision for 2020” proclaims its mission is "dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment."
Foreign Minister Downer claims Pine Gap is not involved in NMD – but in a Ch.9 interview in July 2000, then US Defence Secretary Cohen said Pine Gap had been "very much" involved in NMD.
Former PM Malcolm Fraser has said any request by the US to use Pine Gap's facilities for NMD should be refused because this would place the country in danger. However, Australia backed NMD last year despite warnings that the system was not in Australia's interests.
Classified documents from the Office of National Assessments say: “Pine Gap will be a key component of the early warning system for any US missile defence system".
". . .the reaction that such a system would provoke in Russia, China and perhaps . . . in the Asia Pacific region would have a direct bearing on Australia's strategic outlook . . . .""Any weakening of international arms control regimes would have a negative impact on Australia's security."