Background on the court ruling of #closepinegap protesters today @closepinegap
5 protests faced charges under the Defence Special Undertakings Act in an Alice Springs court today. Serious penalties apply under this act, which was tested for the 2nd time in its history today. The result was rather glorious.
Because prior consent of the Attorney General Lord Brandis to commence prosecution had not been obtained, the judge told the protesters they were free to go after thoroughly rubbishing the prosecution for improperly conducting proceedings. He was also caustic about drafting and clumsiness of the Commonwealth law, which he called a nonsense several times.
In 2008 the Rudd Labor government tightened protection of Pine Gap by declaring it to be a special defence undertaking under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act of 1952.
Making something a 'special Defence undertaking' or a 'prohibited area' is corrosive of democratic principles. Under the Act, for taking a photo of Pine Gap, someone could now be jailed for 7 years, someone entering the facility, even under conditions of symbolic and peaceful protest, also faces 7 years.
The Minister at the time said,
“Specifically declaring the facility a special defence undertaking and prohibited area directly under the act rather than by the existing process that requires a ministerial declaration will provide a firmer basis for any future prosecutions by removing the opportunity for argument about the validity of a declaration. These protections are essential to a facility of such sensitivity and importance to Australia’s defence and external relations to deter mischief makers and those with more sinister intent.”
By “mischief makers” the Minister meant Australian citizens exercising their right to protest. Like the four Christian pacifists who entered Pine Gap in 2005 after informing the Defence Minister and the media of their intention to conduct a peaceful and nonviolent "citizens inspection" of the facility. The judge threw the case out of court and the Attorney General at the time, Phillip Ruddock, was determined to prevent that occurring again. The Rudd Labor government finished of the job of harshly punishing and seeking to frighten anyone thinking about engaging in non-violent resistance against Pine Gap's role in war making.
Senator Scott Ludlam noted during the debate of this legislation in 2008 that,
“If Pine Gap is such a "core element of Australia's national security" what Pine Gap doesn't need is legislative protection, it needs perimeter patrols, especially when Christian pacifists have politely provided forewarning of their intent to non-violently enter the facility to pray. If it is indeed such a sophisticated intelligence gathering facility, the capacity to gather intelligence about its immediate environment needs to be enhanced.
It is ironic that the democratically elected members of the Australian Parliament are being asked to enact legislation on a facility about which Australian parliamentarians know so very little. In 1999 the government refused to provide information about Pine Gap to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties – information that is made freely available to members of the US Congress. Nothing has changed since then. Although US Congress officials have visited Pine Gap and received classified briefings about its functions, elected representatives and Senators are "entrusted with less information than can be found in a public library"
The history of disinformation and misinformation about Pine Gap is long. In 1966, Australians were told the facility was to be a weather station. Later the official cover was a "Space Research Centre". Australians have the right to know what is happening on Australian soil at one of largest and most sophisticated satellite ground stations in the world. Information is still not forthcoming about who is being spied upon, and who is being targeted through this facility? Was it used to coordinate air strikes against Iraqi citizens in a war accurately described by the UN Secretary General and other leaders as an illegal war? How is it used to support US nuclear war fighting capabilities, and how is that consistent with our government's efforts towards nuclear disarmament?
If Pine Gap is indeed a 'core element' of Australia's national security, Australians have a right to know how and why. Rather than making the case for the proposed amendments, the government has described citizens exercising their democratic right to protest as "mischief makers" and have furnished the Committee with statements such as, "Pine Gap makes an important contribution to the security interests of both Australia and the United States of America…The methods used for collecting intelligence at the facility are sensitive…" which are not convincing or compelling.
Today's ruling does not mean that Senator Attorney General Lord Brandis will not consent to serious retributive athletic fervour. The judge today confessed to not knowing who the Attorney General Is, but I suspect he will get to know his name in the coming days.