Yesterday I was arrested while attempting to obstruct war rehearsal operations at Lee Pt. Ironically, although I was trying to interrupt preparations for war, I was charged with disturbing the peace.
Despite standing in the water off Lee Pt right in the path of the USA Navy LCAC amphibious craft, it continued to rush back and forth past me until I was removed from the area by water police. It's final pass, before I was led to shore by the cops, came so close that the bow wave knocked me over. I was somewhat disappointed that I was unable to present enough of a hindrance to at least delay them while they waited for my removal.
When I woke to the news that the USA military would be conducting amphibious manoeuvres on my local beach, I decided to seize the opportunity to protest the context of a growing foreign military presence in and around Darwin. This growing presence has contributed to the largest ever Darwin component of the biennial Talisman Sabre war rehearsals, amid counter-strategic posturing towards China.
As someone with American family (in St Louis), American friends (my mate in Milner is a yank) and colleagues (I've done a bit of work for American companies in recent years) I believe that Australia should maintain good relationships with the USA. I even accept that this may include a military alliance, but I am determined that Australia should not get dragged into every war the USA might consider. And our relationship should certainly not extend to tolerating USA military bases in Australia.
And while it may make sense to do some joint training, we should be careful to not allow this to be abused by our ally to send unhelpful signals to other nations in our region. The mainstream media has clearly detailed the way in which the USA is using their growing presence in the top end to send signals to China, who have responded in kind. Rather than indulging this unhelpful interplay, I'd like Australia to play a constructive role in developing useful relationships in our region.
My lone stand in the sea off Lee Point was made in solidarity with two protesters who, at the same moment, went on to the Shoalwater Bay live-fire training range to disrupt war preparations there.
Earlier in the week, three other protesters were arrested in the same area. And then another two today. These rolling protests against war preparations demonstrate community ambitions for a peaceful and independent Australia, that is not tightly integrated into the USA military's attack formation.
Recent ADF public relations have celebrated the value of 'inter-operability', as though the defence of Australia should be based on our capacity to act as an efficient component of a foreign military empire. In reality, the more tightly we shackle ourselves to a foreign power, the less able we are to build the kind of relationships we want to have with our neighbours, and the more difficult it becomes to choose not to participate in any war that our (significantly larger) ally may entertain.
Even if our parliament were to decide that the next USA war of adventure is not in our strategic interests, can we really convince ourselves that the comprehensive USA communications base at Pine Gap is not being used to command and target weapons, as it has in recent wars? Or that the USA bases co-located at RAAF Darwin, RAAF Tindal and Robertson Barracks on the edge of Darwin are not giving logistical support – or even deploying – to a war that Australia wants no part in?
But these concerns are better expressed elsewhere, and I recognise the priority to pursue better management of the inevitable local risks and impacts. Those local impacts - distinct from the undue harm the USA military presence has on our regional relationships and ambitions for a peaceful future - include a range of environmental and social impacts, from jet noise in our suburbs, to impact on marine life, the challenges of socialisation and managing increased risk of crime. Whereas the big picture issues only really have one response - that of rejecting foreign military bases - local impacts, while inevitable, can be managed, if only we can recognise and confront our clear responsibilities.
When the Prime Minister came up to oversee commencement of the war rehearsals, he left the door open to extending the scope of the USA presence even further. Already, we have all the equipment for a full Marine Air Ground Taskforce permanently located on the edge of Darwin, and a number of USA Air Force assets and personnel co-located at RAAF Darwin, right in the middle of the suburbs. Funding for a massive expansion of Tindal RAAF Base in Katherine has been announced to facilitate plans to permanently base USAF their, and we've heard it suggested by a USA Navy leader that a further number of marines may be sited permanently just off the coast of Darwin in a sea-basing arrangement. Add to that the unexplained 'partial briefing' of the dubiously- constituted Tiwi Land Council over not only USA navy use of the controversial port Melville, but possibly even training facilities on the islands. Clearly in just a few short years we've already far exceeded the scope of the original announcement of plans to base marines in Darwin.
So I call on my friends and the wider community to acknowledge this reality. Let's be confident and clear in expressing our shared ambitions for a peaceful and independent Australia. Please add your voice to BaseWatch and others who want to set sensible limits to the impacts Darwin will inevitably bear from the foreign presence, as we work towards a truly Independent and Peaceful Australia free of any foreign military bases.
UPDATE: a couple of days later it was reported that local and American personnel were cleaning up a suspected fuel spill on the beach. Testing revealed an area about 20m long and 10m wide that may have been contaminated in a spill which occurred during the exercises. About 15 cubic metre of sand was removed from the beach and dumped.