We are extremely grateful to Senator Andrew Bartlett for speaking up for us in the Senate.
Here is the transcript –
Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (18:29): I’d like to speak tonight about something that’s happening right now in Alice Springs involving a number of people from my home state of Queensland. It is a trial that’s occurring about some people who conducted a peaceful protest at Pine Gap quite recently. The Pine Gap spy base has been in operation now for just over 50 years. This original Pine Gap agreement with the US government was signed in 1966. In September last year, several hundred Australians from a range of ages, backgrounds, professions and faiths gathered in Alice Springs to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of that Pine Gap agreement and protest against it. They have continued part of what has been a very long tradition of protest regarding the Pine Gap spy base. It is worth emphasising that the role of this base, as a part of the global war machine, has increased dramatically in recent times, so those concerns that were expressed by many protesters through the eighties, nineties and early parts of this century are more valid than ever.
If I could quote esteemed academic and one of the foremost experts on this issue in Australia, Professor Richard Tanter has said:
Pine Gap literally hardwires us into the activities of the American military… So whether or not the Australian government thinks that an attack on North Korea is either justified, or a wise and sensible move, we will be part of that… We’ll be culpable in the terms of the consequences.
And, potentially, we will get the blowback of the consequences. Let me emphasise that. That says ‘whether or not the Australian government thinks that it’s a good idea what the US might decide to do in regards to an attack on North Korea on any other nation’, not the Australian people. We don’t get a say in that. The Australian people don’t even get a say when our own government decides to go to war, but at least that’s an open statement. At least we can talk about it and ask questions in parliament, even if the people can’t have a direct say. But on this and what the US government might do, neither the Australian people nor the Australian government have a direct say.
This is relevant not just for any potential attack that the US—under the leadership of President Trump, no less—might decide to do on a whim one day but also for what is happening now. It is a well-established fact now that the Pine Gap spy base is a key part of enabling an extensive number of drone attacks, which have been documented even by the US government themselves—the ones they’ve admitted to—to have been responsible for the death of thousands of civilians under former President Obama, former President Bush before him and the current president as well.
I would like to quote Malala Yousafzai, the esteemed young woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize and inspired people around the world to stand up against terrorism and the Taliban, who shot her in the head and tried to kill her for the crime of going to school. When she got that peace prize and had that audience with President Obama, she asked him directly: ‘Please, stop dropping those bombs from those drones. You’re just making things worse. You’re making the wars worse. You’re making terrorism worse.’ She, unfortunately, was ignored, but that request from her was a request to our government as well—and the Australian people—because we are part of that via our continuing agreement with Pine Gap. That is why I express strong support for those people who have protested throughout the years and decades, including last year.
It is appropriate for me to pay tribute to many parliamentary colleagues of the past who have been part of that—and, perhaps, a reflection on my own not-common situation of being a former representative here with the Democrats and now with the Greens. I note at least a couple of other senators: Senator Jean Jenkins and Senator Janet Powell, who were with the Democrats and who also subsequently joined the Greens and ran as candidates down the track, and Senator Vicki Bourne. And, of course, there have been many Greens, including Senator Scott Ludlam and Senator Jo Valentine—the very first Greens’ senator in this chamber. There are many others who have continued to be part of providing support for the peace movement and who have expressed extreme concern about the role this base plays in continuing and expanding war and death around the globe—and, scandalously, alongside that, the absolute zero information and zero say the Australian people have over it.
We’ve heard in the context of a very different debate this week a lot of talk about freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Last year, as part of those protests there, six Australian citizens entered the grounds of the Pine Gap base to sing songs and pray. That was the extent of their protest. It was very much a faith based protest and clearly a non-violent protest. They were arrested, as occurs in these circumstances, but, unlike in almost every other circumstance where such protesters have been charged with trespass, this government and the current Attorney-General chose, and proactively chose, to prosecute these citizens for unlawful entry under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952, a Cold War act that was drafted to secure areas for British nuclear testing. That was the purpose of it, but it has since been expanded to enable the protection, and almost ultimate total secrecy, of this spy base in the middle of the country. It was an explicit decision of this Attorney-General to prosecute these people. Right at this minute the trial is happening, and the Commonwealth is explicitly seeking to jail these people. That’s the sole reason the Attorney-General is using this act: to try to get these people jailed, potentially for up to seven years, for praying and singing songs of lament about the death that is enabled by the Pine Gap spy base.
I fully appreciate that some in the chamber and some in the community do not support the intent of these Christians, but no-one could doubt their sincerity. I certainly can’t. I know a number of them: Margaret Pestorius and Andrew Paine, who I know very well, in particular, are very committed and very effective young peaceful activists; Jim Dowling, who has been a peace activist in Brisbane for many years; as well as Tim Webb and Franz Dowling—and also Paul Christie, who was arrested separately. I can vouch and do vouch and will vouch personally for the peaceful intent and the genuine commitment to peace of these people.
I join with over 70 Australians who put their names to an open letter to Senator Brandis, which was published last Saturday in the Saturday Paper, calling for clemency, because right at this minute the Commonwealth is doing the exact opposite: it is seeking to get significant jail time for these peaceful protesters. Since the time of these protests, even more information has come out about the key role that Pine Gap plays in drone warfare and in enabling, increasing and expanding war and, clearly, in exacerbating the fulcrum and the conditions that enable terrorism to develop further. So, I join with those Australians in calling on the Attorney-General to reconsider his action, to call for clemency, to seek to ensure clemency for these peaceful Christian protesters and to respect those calls for freedom of peaceful expression, freedom of peaceful political communication and freedom of peaceful personal expression of religious beliefs. I seek the leave of the chamber for the open letter to Senator Brandis to be incorporated in the Hansard.