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Protest action at Pine Gap spy base targets US imperialism

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On Sunday morning 2 October, in rounding off a week of national peace and anti-war activities in Alice Springs, 100 people rallied outside the gates of Pine Gap, the US military spy base near Alice Springs singing a new powerful song especially written for the occasion, calling for Australia’s independence from the USA.

Significantly it was sung on the weekend of the AFL Grand Final to the tune of “Up there Cazaly”.  These fine sentiments really sum up the vision for a different future for Australia and its people.

Up there Australia
Stand up and fight
For our independence
From USA might
Out with their bases
No more of their wars
Peace with all nations
When we’re out of their claws

Up there Australia
In there and fight
For our independence
From USA might
A mixture of cultures
Let’s walk hand in hand
Respecting the people
Who first walked this land

Up there Australia
In there and fight
For our independence
From USA might
Peace for the future
That’s what we believe
And sharing our country
With all those in need

In the last week of September and the first weekend of October several hundred people from around Australia gathered in the central Australian town of Alice Springs to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the nearby US-controlled Pine Gap spy base, and 40 years of campaigning by the Australian people to expose and close down the foreign military base.

In today’s world of worsening capitalist economic crisis, military build up and rising international tensions instigated mainly by the US, the threat of major wars in East Europe and the South China Sea is very real. 

In Australia there are growing concerns and disquiet with the US control of Australia’s foreign and military policies and defence operations. There are deepening concerns with Australia’s main parliamentary parties’ subservience and acquiescence to the US as its deputy sheriff. The integration and interoperability of Australia’s military and defence with the US imperialist war machine is worrying more people, including a growing number  of  academics and Australia’s military personnel. The complicity and servility of successive Australian governments and the two major parliamentary parties to US imperialism is more widely felt and recognised.

Against this background a National Peace and Anti-War Gathering was held in the town of Alice Springs and outside the gates of Pine Gap, one of the most highly secretive and important US military spy bases in the world, 19 kilometres from Alice Springs.

More than 30 peace and anti-war groups and community organisations came together from around Australia in a week of diverse and creative activities to throw the spotlight on the operations of the spy base and call on Australia to adopt an independent and peaceful foreign policy and disengage from the US global war machine.

Several peaceful protests were held outside the Pine Gap base; leaflets were handed out to the local community; Quaker Grandmothers for Peace blocked the road to Pine Gap; a group of peace activists chained themselves to US multinational Raytheon weapons manufacturer’s gates; and other activities engaging the local community were held throughout the week.

Representatives from the local Indigenous traditional custodians, the Arrernte people, spoke several times outside the Pine Gap gates reminding the world that Pine Gap occupies stolen land and there was no consultation or permission sought from the traditional custodians to build the US military spy base on their land.

Public Forum

On Friday evening 30 September the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) held a well-attended public information forum in the town, and its annual national conference on the following day. In the months leading up to the 50 year anniversary protest activities there was concerted work done by local townspeople to spread information about Pine Gap. The local campaign and the posters and leaflets on display in shop windows generated a lot of interest in the town and more than 170 people attended the Friday night forum “Pine Gap: Secrets in the Centre”.

IPAN is a national network of more than 30 affiliated peace and anti-war organisations, community groups and unions who support an independent and peaceful Australian foreign policy, oppose US military bases on Australian soil and the stationing of US marines in Darwin.  IPAN is a growing national network with expanding and strengthening links with similar anti-foreign bases groups in the Asia-Pacific region.

Professor Richard Tanter from the Nautilus Institute of Melbourne University gave a detailed presentation which explained the various functions of Pine Gap in its service to the strategic and military interests of US imperialism. He revealed how the base has enhanced its role from military communications and intelligence gathering into missile and drone targeting and space warfare capabilities.

Although nominally a “joint defence facility”, Professor Tanter saw the role of the Australian personnel at the base as very much secondary to the controlling role of the US. This was exercised by the US military through the US National Reconnaissance Office and the Central Intelligence Agency, with much of the detailed work now being conducted by the US weapons manufacturers Raytheon Corporation, Lockheed Martin and other big private contractors. The Australians allegedly get access to the information collected, but not to the US coded messages sent back to the Pentagon!

Some of these messages contain coordinates for targeting drone attacks and assassinations of US ‘enemies’ in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. These extrajudicial killings are frequently accompanied by ‘collateral damage’ inflicted on innocent civilians and families of the targeted people.

There are no formal charges, arrests or trials – just the word of US imperialism that this is all necessary to defeat ‘terrorism’. Our subservient governments, past and present, by their silence have made Australia complicit in these war crimes against humanity.  

Professor Lisa Natividad from the University of Guam spoke of the continuing struggle of her people against the US military occupation of their island. More than 30% of the land area is taken over for US military storage and training purposes, with constant aircraft and helicopter movements day and night. Guam is a US colonial possession, but its citizens have limited voting and civil rights, and lesser government services than other holders of a US passport.

To make way for the recent transfer of troops from Okinawa onto Guam, more areas became restricted, denying people access to their lands, and whole villages were disrupted. This was in addition to the ‘normal’ level of harassment and abuse of continued US military occupation.

In spite of this, the people of Guam are not intimidated and are an important voice in the growth and development of anti-war and anti-imperialist unity in the Asia-Pacific region.

Professor Kosuzu Abe from the University of Ryukyus, Okinawa, told the forum about the many years of struggle and resistance of the people of Okinawa against the US military occupation of Japan’s southern island. This struggle had forced the US government to reduce the number of its troops stationed in Okinawa, with some transferred to Guam and others being shifted to new bases in the north of the island. Several organisations were active in opposing US war preparations and were cooperating for large mobilisations. As with Guam, the people of Okinawa were paying a high price for the US occupation, with stolen land and crimes of violence and abuse never brought to justice.

Both Lisa Natividad and Kosuzu Abe told the public forum that the presence of US bases and stationing tens of thousands of troops in Okinawa and Guam is a form of colonialism.  They stressed the importance of expressions of international solidarity and how much this gave encouragement to their people in struggle. 

The final speaker at the forum was Senator Scott Ludlam from the Australian Greens. He reflected on the recent history of both Labor and Coalition governments, keen to outdo each other in proving themselves as the best ‘US deputy sheriff’ by pandering to the strategic agenda of the US military and its corporate arms manufacturers.

There was also a different history – of protests and opposition to Pine Gap and the other US military bases – North West Cape, Nurrungar and now Darwin, which is hosting a permanent stockpile of US Marines, warplanes, tanks and military equipment.

Pine Gap has always been recognised as the most important and critical base for US global war planning and for this reason has attracted the most opposition. Not only does the existence and function of Pine Gap trample all over Australian independence and sovreignty, it is almost certainly a nuclear target in any war between the USA and either China or Russia.

Senator Ludlam could see no benefit to the Australian people from the Pine Gap base, but plenty of danger as the threat of war was increasing over the South China Sea and the US military ‘pivot’ to tighten the encirclement of China. The closure and removal of Pine Gap was the only sensible option.

The public forum concluded with the panel of speakers responding to audience questions and continued with many lively discussions into the evening.

IPAN National Conference
The next day Saturday 1st October 140 national delegates and members of local community came together for the IPAN National Conference, Pine Gap:  Serving US militarism for 50 years  -  Time for Independence.

Messages of solidarity and support were received from New Zealand, Canada and the Philippines.  Videos of solidarity messages were exchanged between IPAN National Conference and the International Global Campaign on Military Spending Congress being held in Berlin on the same weekend. An IPAN representative was attending the International Congress and spoke at two of its sessions.

IPAN’S National Conference was packed with comprehensive and detailed facts and information. Four panels of speakers led presentation sessions and discussions on issues such as...

  • Whether US bases at Pine Gap, Darwin and the region were a threat to peace and security in Australia and Asia-Pacific
  • War with China?
  • Examining the costs of the US Alliance and preparations for War vs. Defence
  • Health perspective – presented by Medical Association for Prevention of War
  • Economic and social costs from a unions’ perspective (extracts below)
  • Mass surveillance
  • Nuclear and drone warfare

(Below are extracts from a union activist’s presentation on costs of the US-Australia military alliance to working people)
“To various degrees unions have always campaigned against Australia’s involvement in imperialist wars.  This is because it’s the ordinary people, workers and working people who are the cannon fodder in the imperial profiteers’ wars to capture resources and global spheres of dominance. It’s the ordinary people who in tens of thousands die or are left injured, homeless, living in poverty and hunger in devastated countries. 

They are the so-called collateral damage, the new sanitized description of mass slaughter.  And as we meet here today we are reminded of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the growing tensions in Asia-Pacific and East Europe.

“Unions also oppose wars because it’s the working people who pay a high price for these wars with peoples’ taxes diverted from social and community services, welfare, health and education and building a peaceful and sustainable world.

“Australia was colonised in 1788 by the British imperial invasion which violently dispossessed Australia’s First Nations people who have been the custodians and carers of this land for more than 40,000 years.  The Indigenous people never relinquished their custody of this land and culture and their struggle continues today.

“The colonial authority enforced Britain’s own foreign and domestic policies on its new colony, Australia.   The legacy of that colonial past continues today. The difference being the British have been replaced by the US, and the control over our foreign and defence policies is more subtle.  The vestiges of this long dependency are still with us today in the form of the US-Australia alliance.  The British flag has been replaced by the American flag.
“Australia’s national defence and foreign policies have echoed and unquestioningly supported these imperial powers’ global military interests and their wars.  Successive Australian governments’ foreign and defence policies have been an extension of first the British and now US policies. We fought, and continue to fight, against countries that pose no threat to Australia’s security, peace and safety, and with whom Australia had never been in conflict or dispute – the British war in Sudan, the Boer War 1895, 1st WW, Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria.  Only in WW2 did Australian military forces serve the Australian people.

“Since European colonisation, significant parts of Australia’s defence budget and public spending have been exclusively servicing British and US global military agendas and their foreign wars.  Today, the Australian government purchases most of the weaponry designed for offensive warfare from multinational arms manufacturers who stand to profit enormously from a world that’s in a perpetual state of conflict, mass slaughter, and preparations for more wars.
“Much of the recently acquired weaponry, hardware and arms procurement is from the US multinational arms manufacturers – Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Boeing, General Electric, etc.  Australia is purchasing from the US, 75 F35 joint strike fighters war planes at a cost of $10 billion; and 12 Barracuda submarines from France (member of NATO), at a cost  of $50 billion. This hardware is specifically designed and built for long range warfare, and is an important part of interoperability with US offensive military machine, not for the defence of Australia’s sovereignty. This is another price we pay for being in the US-Australia alliance.

“Instead of spending ordinary people’s taxes on services for the people – health, education, public infrastructure, welfare and community services, pensions for single parents, people with disabilities, the elderly, the unemployed, and protecting the environment – public funds are spent on servicing US foreign wars of aggression and the multinational arms manufacturers. This should be of great concern to unions and working people generally.

“The US Pivot into Asia-Pacific publicly announced by Obama in the Australian parliament will see 60% of US global military moved into our region.  And who will carry the costs for the Pivot?

“After Obama and Clinton publicly announced the Pivot, to the loud applause and acclamation by the 2 main parliamentary parties, the US told the Australian government it wanted Australia to spend $2.3 billion on upgrading and building military infrastructure for stationing US marines in Darwin.

“Another cost of US-Australia alliance and its even deeper integration and inoperability into US military is the destruction of Australia’s “defence” manufacturing industries. Australia’s “defence” industries are now being increasingly forced to import more expensive offensive hardware from mainly US multinational arms corporations.  This imported weaponry is designed for offensive aggression and of which Australia has no need for the defence of our sovereignty, but is increasing the “defence” budget and destroying hundreds of jobs and livelihood for hundreds of workers in Australia.

“Over the past 10-15 years tens of thousands of jobs in the manufacturing industries have been lost as corporations shift production to low wage countries. Jobs and permanent work is the only livelihood and security the great majority working people have. In contrast, a government run and an independent self-defence manufacturing industry that builds military hardware for Australia’s self-defence is a viable and plausible alternative that can provide security for workers and Australia’s self-defence capabilities.

“A genuinely independent and peaceful Australia would develop government-run local manufacturing industries that would include the production of self-defence equipment, and build socially useful infrastructure to advance the needs of the people and the environment – extensive public transport, medical,  scientific and educational research and development.  These industries would provide socially useful jobs for workers in clean, sustainable industries that build security and peace, not wars.  To support local manufacturing industries and jobs a policy of local procurement in self-defence industries should be implemented.  This would entail using local materials and building locally manufactured patrol boats and planes, submarines and ships for local sea lanes and coastal defence, locally made uniforms and equipment.

“The US Pivot into Asia-Pacific also has an economic side called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement which advances the interests of global corporations over the interests of people and national sovereignty. The TPP has been strongly opposed by the union movement.

“There are many other costs of the US-Australia alliance to Australia’s working people and our national interest.  Just to mention a few:
-    Political sovereignty and independence – 1975, Pine Gap and Whitlam government
-    Australia’s complicity in US murderous wars, drones, assassinations
-    The war on terror and erosion of civil liberties and democratic rights”

Other Conference topics and presentations included:
•    Indigenous experience of military abuse of people and land – speakers included  local Indigenous communities and Lisa Natividad
•    A faith perspective on  imperialism and US war preparations 
•    Learning from past campaigns to envision an independent and peaceful foreign policy

A brief presentation was made on behalf of IPAN’s national co-ordinating committee outlining a broad vision for an Independent and Peaceful Australia:(Extracts )

“We believe a people’s vision for an independent and peaceful Australia is the only viable and practical alternative to the present subservience and integration into US militarism.

“What would an independent and peaceful Australian foreign policy look like? We hope some of these points will inspire positive and unifying discussion and broadening the campaign for peace and independence.
1.    Treaty with Australia’s First Nation People
2.    Establish independent working relationships with countries, especially in our region, based on mutual respect, equality and national sovereignty. Promote peaceful resolutions of conflict between countries through negotiations and diplomacy, see IPAN’s Statement on the South China Sea Territorial Dispute.
3.    Extend aid programs in the region, including countries affected by devastations of climate change and military conflicts.
4.    Assert our independence and sovreignty in our relationship with the US, and any other big power. The US is presently the most aggressive war-driven armed to the teeth power in the world and the main instigator of wars around the world.
5.    Ensure the military and economic interests of big powers and multinational corporations do not override the welfare, safety and security of the Australian people and the environment
6.    Bring home Australian military forces from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and other parts of the world immediately (eg Philippines, Japan)
7.    Remove foreign military bases and troops from Australia and withdraw from the US-Australia Alliance to secure genuine and lasting independence from big power dominance and our involvement in foreign wars 
8.    Internationally, vigorously promote the banning and destruction of all nuclear weapons and stop the arms race
9.    The savings made from current expenditure on foreign wars and interoperability with the US global war machine will be re-directed to social and community services – more hospitals, doctors, nurses, teachers, schools, support for struggling farmers, people on disability, single parents and unemployment pensions, protection for the environment, and more
10.    Develop Australia’s self-reliant, self-defence industries and assert our independence from the US military apparatus. End military interoperability and integration into the US war machine. The technology presently used for offensive and aggressive warfare should be re-directed towards Australia’s self-defence and improving and securing people’s lives and the environment. Re-tooled, re-engineered and re-designed local manufacturing industries will provide jobs for workers in industries that build security and peace, not the profits of war. 
11.    Restructure armed forces for self-defence of Australia and civil emergencies
12.    Declare Australia an independent and peaceful country
13.    Close all refugee detention camps and implement efficient and speedy processing of asylum seekers
14.    Internationally, campaign to end wars and poverty and uphold self-determination and sovreignty of countries
15.    An independent foreign policy of Australia would embrace economic sovereignty, and fair and equal policies and trade between countries rather than the neo-liberal corporate policies”

Each session was followed by brief questions to the panel members before the conference broke up into four workshops to pinpoint suggested actions and demands for the year ahead. The workshops considered four key areas;
•    Nuclear weapons and Australia
•    Foreign troops off Australian land – Close US bases
•    Armed Neutrality – strategy for independence and peace?
•    Building a broad movement for peace, justice and independence

At least a dozen or more suggestions were put forward from the workshops and these will be prioritised by the IPAN National Committee and circulated to the various affiliates for comment.

During the week of activities in Alice Springs and outside Pine Gap two permanent Peace campsites were established on the side of the road outside the Pine Gap base, from where several protest actions were launched, plus a successful exposure of the secretive and unmarked US multinational weapons manufacturer Raytheon office in the township. Early in the morning several protesters chained themselves to the gates, preventing staff from entering and highlighting the key role this murderous company has in the operations of Pine Gap.


(On several occasions the conference was briefly interrupted by muffled outbursts from Bulldogs fans when scores from the Australian Football League Grand Final in Melbourne indicated that the team from working class Footscray (in Melbourne) was on the verge of winning. At the conclusion of the conference the Swans supporters briefly disappeared to lick their wounds and recover from deep disappointment.  Nevertheless, in the true spirit of working class western suburbs solidarity and the national gathering for peace they were warmly embraced by the Bulldogs fans.)

What emerged from the conference was a clear consensus to close Pine Gap and expel US Marines from Darwin. Many delegates felt that this would only happen when the US Alliance was rejected and the ANZUS Treaty discarded. Unfortunately the crowded agenda left little time to debate much of this and other important issues raised by delegates, but nevertheless the conference ended on a positive and united note.

In the evening, a candlelight procession from Anzac Hill was followed by a shared meal next to the Todd River.

Cavalcade to Pine Gap – Picnic at Pine Gap 2016
On the Sunday morning more than 30 cars assembled with banners and balloons, and set off in convoy to the gates of the Pine Gap base for another protest rally with speeches and demands to close Pine Gap.  This was a repeat of the Picnic at Pine Gap held at the first Pine Gap protest in 1976.

The road to Pine Gap was blocked off to cars two hundred metres from the gates of the base.  Protestors were frisked by Northern Territory police before we were allowed to walk through the road block to the gates, where 30 Federal police were guarding US military and spy installation.

The protestors were extensively photographed by a US agent with a long lens camera.

A letter addressed to Chief of Base Operations, a CIA high ranking staffer, and signed by IPAN National Committee members was handed  to the senior Federal Police officer with request to deliver the letter to the Chief of Base Operations in command of the Pine Gap base. A solitary peppercorn accompanied the letter, being the return of rent paid by the USA for their bases in Australia. The letter read:

MS Amy Chapult,
Following the well attended and successful conference organised by the Independent and Peaceful Australian Network (IPAN) at Alice Springs this weekend, it was determined that:

1.      The Pine Gap facility is a threat to peace for the people of Australia and Alice Springs, in particular
2.      The illegal drone assassination program perpetrated by the United States with the assistance of Pine Gap makes the Australian people complicit in this illegal activity.

For these reasons, IPAN, on behalf of all concerned people of Australia, calls for the immediate cessation of this illegal drone program and the termination of the Pine Gap facilities as soon as possible. Australia will then be a safer place for all of us.

 Yours in peace
 (IPAN Committee members)


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