Darwin protester disrupts Talisman Sabre

July 17, 2015
A US Navy hovercraft on Lee Point Beach near Darwin as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre. Photo: Justin Tutty

Last Sunday I was arrested while attempting to obstruct war rehearsal operations at Lee Point.

Despite standing in the water off Lee Point, right in the path of the US Navy LCAC amphibious craft, it continued to rush back and forth past me until I was removed from the area by water police. Its final pass, before I was plucked from the water by police, came so close that the bow wave knocked me over. I was 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 US military would be conducting amphibious manoeuvres on my local beach, I decided to seize the opportunity to protest, in the context of a growing foreign military presence in and around Darwin.

This growing foreign 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, friends and colleagues, I believe that Australia should maintain good relationships with the US. I even accept that this may include a military alliance.

But I am determined that Australia should not be dragged into every war the US might consider, and our relationship should certainly not extend to tolerating US military bases in Australia.

While it may make sense to do some joint training, we should be careful not to allow this to be abused by the US to send unhelpful signals to other nations in our region. The mainstream media has clearly detailed the way in which the US 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. These rolling protests against war preparations demonstrate community ambitions for a peaceful and independent Australia that is not tightly integrated into the US military's attack formation.

Recent Australian Defence Force 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 to not participate in any war that our (significantly larger) ally may choose.

Even if our parliament were to decide that the next US war of adventure is not in our strategic interests, can we really convince anyone that the US communications base at Pine Gap is not being used to command and target weapons, as it has in recent wars? Or that the US 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 in which Australia wants no part?

I am particularly motivated to take a stand against the apparently unbounded growing foreign presence in and around our town. When Prime Minister Tony Abbott came up to oversee the commencement of the war rehearsals, he left the door open to extending the scope of the US 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 US 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 there, and we've heard it suggested by a US 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 Tiwi Land Council over not only US navy use of the controversial Port Melville, but possibly even training facilities being built 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 the community in Darwin 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 join other locals 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.

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