Media Advisory – Pine Gap Pilgrims

November 1, 2017

On 29 September 2016, six activists were arrested playing a musical lament on viola and guitar and praying in the prohibited area at Pine Gap, a key US facility near Alice Springs that provides intelligence and operational support for US military operations.

The ‘Pine Gap Pilgrims’ were taking part in events to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Pine Gap Agreement. They face severe penalties under the 1952 Defence Special Undertakings (DSU) Act, fines of up to $42,000 and 7 years in jail, for ‘entering a prohibited area’.

Judge Daynor Trigg dismissed the case immediately after their arrest, establishing that prosecution had commenced without the authorisation of the Attorney General required under the legislation.

Four months later, the 6 received summonses and the Consent to Proceed, which Attorney General George Brandis had signed on 13 December 2016.

The six face two separate jury trials in the Supreme Court in in Alice Springs for playing a musical lament in recognition of the suffering and harm caused by US war-making, and praying for the cessation of military operations facilitated by the base in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Syria.

Court proceedings begin on 13 November 2017 with the trial of Paul Christie, followed by the second trial of Margaret Pestorius, Tim Webb, Franz Dowling, Andrew Paine and Jim Dowling which will commence on 16 November 2017.

Speaking on behalf of the Peace Pilgrims, Margaret Pestorius said, “The surveillance conducted from Pine Gap fuels dangerous US military operations, including the destructive bombing of communities in Iraq, Yemen and Syria. We went to Pine Gap to pray,  bear witness and lament the suffering that Australia and Pine Gap causes.  We as Australians are responsible and connected to this death and mutilation. We prayed for that to change.”

Professor Richard Tanter of Melbourne University, an expert researcher on the changing role of Pine Gap over decades, will be traveling to Alice Springs for the trial said, “Australia is both literally and institutionally hardwired into the US global surveillance system and military operations. Pine Gap’s new roles and technologies have changed the character of the ‘alliance’ itself, closing the space for choices by Australia in how it is involved in US military endeavours.”

Former Senator Scott Ludlam, also traveling to Alice Springs for the trial stated, “While these individuals committed absolutely no damage at all, they were committed to nonviolence, this base is implicated in nuclear weapons targeting and a drone assassinations and US run massive surveillance efforts targeted at civilian populations around the world. That’s what happens at Pine Gap. That’s what it’s for. Against the scale of activities going on there, the voices of these peaceful demonstrators need to be heard and supported. They are standing up against institutionalised violence. They are standing up for peace.”

Arrernte elder Peltharre, Chris Tomlins said
“Our community wants to sit down and talk about this place, Pine Gap. People are worried about the nuclear threat that Pine Gap brings  to this country. Our people need to talk about what that means to us and our future.”

In a recent Background Briefing on the role of Pine Gap, Emily Howie of the Human Rights Law Centre stated, “The legal problem that’s created by drone strikes is that there may very well be violations of the laws of armed conflict, or war crimes as it’s called colloquially, and that Australia may be involved in those potential war crimes through the facility at Pine Gap.”

For further comment:

Margaret Pestorius: 0403 214 422 – [email protected]

Professor Richard Tanter: 0407 824 334 – [email protected]

Former Senator Scott Ludlam: via 0403214422 – [email protected]

ClosePineGap.org   Twitter @ClosePineGap   FaceBook ClosePineGap

General Media Enquiries: Cate Adams 0400 916 297 [email protected]

About the Defendants

The defendants are associated with ‘Peace Pilgrims’ a set of spirit-led groups of people who use nonviolence to oppose the harms of war and the militarisation of civil society. Some are connected to the Catholic Worker Movement. All identify as committed proponents of nonviolence and truth speaking in the tradition of Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day.

Jim Dowling, 61,  long term Brisbane Catholic Worker, was a member of Christians Against All Terrorism (also known as the Pine Gap 4) who entered Pine Gap in 2015 and shut the facility for 5 hours. They were acquitted on appeal. Jim was recently found guilty of removing a sword from a cross in Toowong, Brisbane.

Margaret Pestorius, 53,  is a long term Christian concerned about peace and justice issues, a social worker and classical musician. She formed CairnsPeacebyPeace.org with her late husband Bryan Law (deceased) who himself was a member of the Pine Gap 4. She participated in the campaign to challenge operations at Pine Gap during the trials (2006-2008) of the Pine Gap 4. She has conducted several pilgrimages against the militarisation of the Indigenous lands at Shoalwater Bay during Talisman Saber exercises, a key fortifier of the Australia/US alliance.

Paul Christie, 44, is a youth worker and event producer. He identifies as a prayer activist who looks for places to speak truth and break the denial he sees in the society. He has been involved in ‘pilgrimage’ to witness to Talisman Sabre, the combined US Australian military exercises conducted near Rockhampton.

Andy Paine, 31, is a researcher and radio host at 4zzz in Brisbane. He lives in community with the Dorothy Day Catholic Workers and participates in a range of social issues. With Jim Dowling and Margaret Pestorius he has been involved in ‘pilgrimages’ at Talisman Sabre, the combined US Australian military exercises conducted near Rockhampton.

Tim Webb, 23, is a disability worker. He is cousin of Sam Land a member of the ‘Waihopai Ploughshares Three’: a group of Christians who dismantled the dome covering the antenna in the NZ/US Waihopai military station in 2008. Sam Land noted that his inspiration for the action at Waihopai was the Pine Gap 4 ‘inspection’. Tim was recently found guilty of shaping a sword which had been taken from a cross in Toowong in Brisbane into a gardening tool.

Franz Dowling, 20,  is a songwriter and guitarist student studying music at university. He lives in community at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house. As the son of Jim Dowling, Franz has been involved with nonviolence and anti-militarism his whole life! He was recently convicted of singing and playing the guitar during the removal of a sword from a cross in Brisbane.

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