Harsh new laws to hit Pine Gap protesters
Sydney Morning Herald, March 15, 2009
The Federal Government has quietly beefed up laws protecting the US spy station Pine Gap, ensuring protesters face seven years' jail if they go near or photograph the intelligence-gathering facility.
The new law puts the US-controlled Alice Springs spy station further outside the scrutiny of the Australian Parliament and silences critics from legally arguing whether the base is in Australia 's defence interests. The Rudd Government slipped the amendment into a miscellaneous defence bill on Wednesday.
The Pine Gap amendments were drafted by the Howard government after it failed to successfully prosecute four Christian pacifists who protested at Pine Gap in 2005.
For the first time in history, the then attorney-general Philip Ruddock tried to use the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act to prosecute the foursome for entering a "prohibited area".
Jim Dowling, Adele Goldie, Donna Mulhearn and Bryan Law were tried and convicted in the Northern Territory Supreme Court in June 2007. They faced seven years' jail but were acquitted on appeal in February last year.
The Court of Criminal Appeal found that, under the act, any person charged was entitled to challenge at trial whether or not the declaration of a "prohibited area" was necessary for the purposes of the defence of Australia.
The amendment passed last week, which defines the Pine Gap facility as a "special defence undertaking" and a "prohibited area" necessary for the defence of Australia , strips away that legal entitlement.
Greens senator Scott Ludlam said: "It is very unfortunate that Attorney-General Robert McClelland has followed his predecessor's lead, finishing what Ruddock started by amending the law to further crack down on peaceful protest."
He described the amendments as "retrospective revenge" designed to "punish and frighten those thinking about engaging in non-violent resistance against Pine Gap's role in war-making".
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the amendment would "deter mischief-makers and those with more sinister intent".