Above: Peace Pilgrims Margaret Pestorius, Franz Dowling, Andrew Paine, Jim Dowling, and Tim Webb. The men in bare feet don’t wear shoes in solidarity with the poor, said Jim Dowling. It also keeps them in contact with the Earth and is a stance against consumerism. Their lack of footwear was not an issue in the court today.
By KIERAN FINNANE
In the early hours of 29 September last year, five people were allegedly detected standing on rocks on a steep hill within Pine Gap military base boundaries, playing musical instruments – a lament.
All five stand charged in the Supreme Court with entering a prohibited area under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952. One of the five, Andrew Paine, is also charged with having a photographic apparatus (a mobile phone) in the prohibited area. The charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years in gaol.
The other four are Margaret Pestorius, James (Jim) Dowling, Timothy (Tim) Webb, and Franz Dowling. They call themselves Peace Pilgrims and their trials, joined for convenience, started today. It follows the trial of their fellow Pilgrim, Paul Christie, found guilty of the same charge (in a separate incident) yesterday.
For today, at least, the five were representing themselves. On the opposite side was a legal team of three led by Senior Counsel Michael McHugh. Sitting directly behind them and in constant communication with them, there were two people, a man and a woman, likely from the Department of Defence (I asked but they only supplied the word “Commonwealth”). They were joined later by a further legal representative.
From the jury’s point of view not much happened today.
The Crown outlined its case and a first witness gave evidence. This was Protective Services Officer Sergeant Matthew Gadsby.
Left: At the end of day one, the five debrief with a supporter outside the court.
He was monitoring the military base’s security surveillance system that night when he detected “irregular movement” and eventually sighted persons of interest inside the base boundaries. He despatched a response team and the five defendants now before the court were arrested.
Subsequent investigation revealed that they had live-streamed the incursion to Ms Pestorius’s Facebook page, according to the Crown’s outline of its case.
Following Sgt Gadsby’s evidence in chief, the five had the right to cross-examine him. Bare-footed Pilgrim Jim Dowling asked him if he was aware that Pine Gap is involved in nuclear war.
Objection from the Crown: The question couldn’t assist the jury on the matter at hand (entering the prohibited area). So how was it relevant?
Mr Dowling said the question went to why the Pilgrims were there at Pine Gap, which is the basis of their defence, that they were there to defend themselves and others from imminent disaster.
How is this man’s view of that relevant? asked Justice John Reeves.
Pine Gap would supply the information necessary for a nuclear war, ventured Mr Dowling.
Justice Reeves ruled the question irrelevant.
The slow process of empanelling a jury and informing them about their role in the trial had taken most of the morning.
Once those seeking to be excused had been dealt with (17 all up, with a majority successful), those who had served on the trial of Mr Christie were set to one side. There remained just 27 potential jurors left.
Each defendant had a right to six challenges, as did the prosecution. In the end there were six challenges from the defendants, and one from the prosecution.
The defendants are now in the hands – so far as judgment of the facts is concerned – of 10 women and two men, with one man as the reserve juror.
Legal argument chewed up much of the afternoon, during which the jury was sent out.
The trial continues.
UPDATE 17 November 2017, 9.00am:
The trials of the Peace Pilgrims have been raised in the Senate by new Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett (Greens), concerned about the fate of the protesters from his “home state” and arguing for the rightness of their concerns about the military base at Pine gap and its role in “the global war machine”.
Senator Bartlett read onto the record an open letter to Attorney-General Senator George Brandis, who authorised the prosecution of the six under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952, instead of charging them with trespass, as has been mostly the case with such protests in the past.
The open letter was published last week in The Saturday Paper (as a paid advertisement, thanks to donors) before the trials had begun. It sought the “urgent intervention” of Senator Brandis “to protect the right to freedom of speech, expression, political communication and of religion” of the six Pilgrims, all Australian citizens.
Of the use of the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 in this prosecution it says:
“That legislation was drafted at the height of the Cold War to secure areas for British nuclear testing, and it permits prosecutions to be held in secret, and for records of hearings to be destroyed, imposing penalties of up to $42,000 and 7 years in jail.”
Of the civil rights dimensions of the case, it says: “This prosecution occurs as Australia prepares to serve on the UN Human Rights Council and when UN Rapporteurs have criticised policies, laws and actions of your government that undermine freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to protest. These are fundamental civil rights, and they are profoundly important when governments are engaged in the sort of conduct which Pine Gap facilitates.
“Five of the defendants are devout Christians. Their faith impelled them to give voice to the teachings of peace and love for humanity and creation found in the Bible.
“In this case, where Australian citizens were doing no more than praying and peacefully expressing dissent, prosecuting them is not only grossly inappropriate but a shocking waste of court resources.”
The open letter was signed by 70 prominent Australians – among them. lawyers, academics, journalists, doctors, several recipients of Australian Honours and a number of Senators .