Activists put Australian Defence Industries on trial

April 20, 2005

Alex Rayfield, Melbourne

Three activists — Jason MacLeod, Josie Lee and Adam Breasley — are currently before the courts after being arrested for non-violent direct action at the Australian Defence Industries (ADI) munitions plant in Benalla, Victoria. They plan to use their arrest and court case to put the Australian arms company on trial.

Although charged with trespass, the accused maintain that the real criminal in this case is ADI, which fuels violence and war through supplying weapons, ammunition and military equipment to conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, West Papua and Aceh.

The activists were arrested by police when they peacefully entered the factory grounds to plant a vegetable garden. "We willingly risked arrest", said the activists in a statement, "because when ADI's weapons and bullets reach places like Iraq, Indonesia, and elsewhere, the simple and tragic truth is that ordinary people like you will die. Their lives are not worth any less. Ours are not worth any more."

According to the activists, defence department documents reveal that in recent years at least 375 shipments of military aid have been sent to the Indonesian military. Previous documents released in Hansard show that past shipments supplied to Indonesia have included ammunition, military firearms, military software, military aircraft components and other equipment. The activists believe that although protected by a veil of secrecy and commercial-in-confidence agreements, military goods manufactured by ADI are bought by Australian defence department procurers such as the Joint Ammunition and Logistics Organisation, and sold to countries like Indonesia.

The activists insist that any military goods sold to Indonesia are not used for external defence, but for internal repression. Expert witness, West Papuan independence leader Jacob Rumbiak, told the court that since Indonesia took control of the territory in 1963, around 100,000 West Papuans have been killed.

"In my experience", Rumbiak said, "the Indonesian military routinely kills civilians working peacefully for self-determination and the protection of human rights. What these three activists have done is something very valuable and noble. They have acted in a way to prevent the killings and human rights abuses of future generations."

When asked by the defence what he felt the result of the sale of military goods to Indonesia would be for the people of West Papua, Rumbiak offered his own experience as an example. "When I attempted to peacefully negotiate with Jakarta I was arrested and tortured. The Indonesian military attempted to kill me. They shot me here and here", he said, pointing to where bullets entered his body.

The activists claim that, as well as supplying the Indonesian military, ADI is linked to Australia's involvement in the illegal war in Iraq. Under oath, Greg Hope, general manager of the ADI plant in Benalla, testified that "ADI is the principal supplier of weapons, munitions and military equipment to the Australian Defence Force". ADI makes the Steyr rifle, which is the personal weapon used by all Australian soldiers, a range of small and heavy ammunition (including grenades, bombs and missiles), as well as military equipment like armoured personnel carriers.

According to MacLeod, this means that "when Australian troops stormed into the Iraqi town of Fallujah during ill-fated US-led military operations last year that resulted in the killing of more than 800 civilians, they used Australian weapons and munitions, made in Australia by ADI to destroy Iraqi homes and to kill and maim unarmed Iraqi civilians."

The activists believe that ADI is an integral part of the government's push to further align Australian troops with the US military and US President George Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive strikes. They say that Barry Sullivan, a senior executive with ADI, has told them directly that the company is being asked by the Australian government to ensure that more equipment manufactured by ADI is inter-operable with US and British equipment, allowing Australian troops to more seamlessly participate in US-led military operations.

The activists argue that they committed the lesser crime of peaceful trespass in order to prevent the greater crime of widespread and indiscriminate violence and human rights violations that would have resulted from the sale and use of ADI military equipment.

MacLeod said: "We believe the real but unstated purpose of companies like ADI is not to enhance human security, but to protect the interests of political, corporate and military elites. The manufacture and sale of military goods by ADI does not help meet the needs of indigenous people in places like West Papua, but will be used to crush the movement for self-determination.

"Through actions like this one we intend to let our sisters and brothers in places like West Papua know that there are people in Australia who remember them and are willing to stand up for a free and peaceful West Papua. And perhaps in some small way we hope to encourage other people to do something hopeful and withdraw their support for war."

The trial continues at 10am on May 27 at the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Anyone wishing to offer solidarity and support is welcome.

From Green Left Weekly, April 20, 2005.
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