assuming the best

As part of our solidarity actions for the Pine Gap 4, we (a bunch of us from CAN) had planned to attempt a conversation with the “enemy”. I put that in parentheses because we didn’t really see them as the enemy as such – more like opponents, or those with whom we were locked in a struggle. We did not, however, expect to get an appointment, and had planned for contingencies. That turned out to be a good thing, because after initial contact, there was some reticence. Pushing harder in negotiations meant we got our appointment.

So last Friday Christop, Simon Reeves and I went off to the US consulate in St Kilda Road to chat with the Vice Consul there about Pine Gap. We went with two primary concerns: firstly, the secrecy that surrounds the base. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which was a parliamentary committee appointed to assess whether or not it was in Australia’s national interest to continue the treaty that enables the US to use Pine Gap, complained that they were privy to “as much information as can be found in a public library”. They particularly took issue with the stonewalling of the Defence Department in relation to information that was required for them to make an informed decision. The information never came; regardless, they rubber stamped the treaty.

There is also a concern over the discrepancy between Australian and US access to the base. Members of US Congress can have full tours of the base, where Australian Parliamentarians cannot. The restrictions on Australians seem to be much tighter than the US. This is of concern when you have less access to your own land than a foreign nation.

The second major concern was the compromising of Australian sovereignty that bases like Pine Gap and Geraldton and Shoalwater Bay represent. The US cannot prosecute a war without the help of Pine Gap, which means that regardless of whether Australia is actively involved in a conflict the US wants to pursue, we are complicit in it. One wonders what would happen if an Australian government actually opposed a war the US was determined to prosecute; I suspect we’ll never find out.

Anyway, though I won’t go into detail about the meeting itself, suffice to say we were pleasantly surprised. Though the security is insanely tight there (said the VC on my arrival after the final round of inspections, “At least you feel safe now, hey?”) it was great to get in a room and have a conversation, enabling us to see the people behind the policies. Mostly I was interested in listening, hearing what she had to say about her ideas and our ideas. Again, this turned out to be much more of a conversion for us, in that (as usual) just getting around a table with someone different made for increased understanding.

Again, Christop’s account can be found here.

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