The six “peace pilgrims” who were arrested last September on the Pine Gap US military intelligence base, near Alice Springs, have now received court summons.
Jim Dowling, Andy Paine, Tim Webb and Franz Dowling of Brisbane and Margaret Pestorius and Paul Christie of Cairns are each charged with trespass under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act and face maximum penalties of between seven and 14 years in prison.
The Act was the subject of some controversy in September when the six defendants were arrested. As well as carrying severe penalties, the law also requires the express consent of the federal attorney-general to be used. This led the charges to be dropped at the time. Judge Daynor Trigg described the legislation as “a bit of nonsense”.
The peace pilgrims say they intend to put the Pine Gap base itself on trial. Paine said: “Pine Gap is a foreign military installation on Australian soil that is vital to the US surveillance state and is used to target drone strikes that kill civilians in foreign countries.
“Its actions should be a topic of debate among all Australians. Instead the base operates in virtual secrecy; hidden in the desert with no government accountability and extreme laws threatening anyone who dares to show what goes on there.
“With the unpredictability of a Donald Trump presidency and the US-Australia relationship strained, we need to consider the consequences of our government’s unconditional loyalty to the US in military affairs.
“To do this and to bring what is done in secret out into the open is why we walked onto Pine Gap in the first place; this trial presents an opportunity for us to publicly do that again.”
The “peace pilgrims” walked on to Pine Gap on September 28 carrying musical instruments and conducting a lament for the deaths and suffering caused by Pine Gap. One of the six, Jim Dowling, had previously entered Pine Gap in 2005 in a sensational case that ended with convictions that were overturned on appeal. This is the only time the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act has been used.