By ERWIN CHLANDA
The presence of Pine Gap is seen as a matter of life and death by the peace movement – but certainly not by the town council.
Its policy on the military base was last reviewed in 2008, when a minor change was made to the 2002 policy which in turn was based on a 1987 policy.
The 9/11 assault of course predated the 2002 policy by just a few months and since then the base 19 km from Alice Springs has massively grown in size and in function: The Iraq war started and the Afghanistan war took place. Guantanamo Bay stood the legal system on its head. ISIS emerged.
London, Paris and Nice happened. All the world’s mobile phones became targets for the system which Pine Gap is part of, syphoning up the metadata of billions of people. The ‘drone program’ began, using intel from the ‘joint’ base to kill people in countries we are not at war with (as well as those where we are at war).
Now the Syrian crisis and its refugee flood – to which US and Australian interventions in the region are contributing – is threatening to tear apart the European Union.
In this situation of escalating international tensions and conflicts, in which the base at Pine Gap is an important player, the government ‘closest to the people’ is losing no sleep to bring their policy up to speed. Well-argued fears that Alice Springs could face immolation in a tit-for-tat exchange of nukes or from a rabid fanatic with bomb that fits into a suitcase are simply shrugged off.
With 800 workers Pine Gap is the town’s second-biggest employer (the hospital with about 1200 is the biggest) and there are some 400 rate paying properties housing the “spooks” – as they are cheekily known around town.
Yet with the town council policy regarding the base is ranking no higher than policies, for example, on procurement, fraud protection, debt recovery and garbage collection and charges, all also slotted to be reviewed at some time in the future (no time table yet).
The following paragraph was part of the policy text on the council website, below the policy expressed in two paragraphs : “Refer to attached document ‘Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap’ that supports this policy via important background information.”
That paragraph was removed recently because the document had been prepared for the 2002 policy and had gone out of date.
As it appears to be the only outline of facts that the council relied on for formulating its 2008 policy – still current today – we have asked for a copy of the document.
Asked on what basis the review of the policy will take place and what information council will refer to, CEO Rex Mooney says that has not yet been decided and will be considered in context with the other policy reviews.
They will be in the hands of Skye Price (pictured), recently appointed the Director of Corporate and Community Services.
The elected members – councillors and Mayor – did not take the opportunity to brush up on the ultra secret base when some top analysts were in town last week, along with two Senators.
A group of peace activists asked to meet with all the elected members. In the end only Cr Brendan Heenan and Cr Eli Melky attended. The group included the president of the Criminal Lawyers Association of the NT, Russell Goldflam. With him was Professor Richard Tanter, the nation’s top expert on the base and its work, along with Professor Des Ball, who is critically ill.
Also present were Annette Brownlie, President of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN), and Dr Sue Wareham, of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War.
Cr Melky said given his experiences and background (he is of Lebanese origin) he was interested in what the deputation had to say, their concerns “that we are a target,” as well as issues of drone attacks.
Cr Heenan said that he listened with interest to the presentations.
Both councillors said there are no plans to use that information as part of the council’s decision-making process.
“Global politics” was contained in the town council’s first and second policy statements on Pine Gap, 30 years ago and in 2002. In 2008 – still in force today – the focus became “defence of Australian territory” and the economic gains from the base for the town were added.
Policy Statement 1987
The Council will support the retention of the American /Australian Joint Defence Base, known as Pine Gap, and acknowledges the importance of this facility for the Defence of Australian territory and as an integral part in maintaining stability in the South Pacific Region and in maintaining Australia’s position in global politics.
Policy Statement 2002
Council supports the retention of the American/Australian Joint Defence Base, known as Pine Gap, and acknowledges the importance of this facility for the Defence of Australian territory, and as an integral part in maintaining stability in our region and in maintaining Australia’s position in global politics.
Policy Statement 2008
Council supports the retention of the American/Australian Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, and acknowledges the importance of this Facility for the defence of Australian territory and for the economic and social benefit of Alice Springs.
By ERWIN CHLANDA