The Guardian 8 June, 2005

Peace campaigners converge on
Rockhampton for Talisman Sabre

Bob Briton

Australia is about to host a joint US/Australian military exercise involving 30,000 military participants and the use of live ammunition in some of the country's most prized natural heritage areas. The military refuse to rule out the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons.

Talisman Sabre will take place from June 10-30 and marks a new stage in what Defence Minister Hill calls the "seamless inter-operability" of the two countries' militaries.

In fact it is the latest stage of the eventual integration of Australia's defence forces into the massive US military. It is also another dangerous phase in the militarisation of Australian society which consumes a staggering $60 million a day; money which has been diverted from struggling social services like health, education and social security.

Peace, anti-nuclear, environment, and anti-military campaigners from around Australia will be gathering for a Peace Convergence and other events on the long weekend (June 10-12), mostly in the Rockhampton / Yeppoon region where many of the exercises are planned. Other peace events are proposed for Darwin, Sydney, Melbourne, Lancelin, Amberley Air Force Base, Cairns, Cowley Beach and elsewhere.

There is even a solidarity event to be held in Vieques, Puerto Rico Caribbean site until 2003 of 20 years of US Naval bomb testing that had disastrous health and environmental consequences for the people.

"Places to drop bombs"

Concern at the Talisman Sabre exercise is widespread in the local community. US Vice-Admiral Archie Clemins explained the problems involved in hosting such exercises in an interview with The West Australian. He pointed out that the US is running out of sites to conduct the destructive events and is relying heavily on Australia to fill the gap.

"You have to have places to drop bombs, you have to have places to shoot live weapons, places to fly planes over that make noise, places where you can actually test and exercise your capabilities. I think Australia in the future is going to be one of the places we'd like to exercise with the Australians, as well as with the US Navy," the Vice Admiral said.

The places the military authorities have chosen for the exercises show just how far the Australian government is prepared to go, how little regard it has for the country's security or sovereignty as a result of the US alliance:

  • Shoalwater Bay, for example, is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and a sanctuary for the stabilisation of local dugong numbers. It is also home to 26 species of dolphins and whales including humpbacks. It has national listed sites of both colonial and Indigenous heritage.

  • Cowley Beach also is also part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and contains natural heritage listed Indigenous and colonial heritage sites. The region is listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands and has nationally significant populations of migratory bird species.

  • The Townsville Field Training Area has national heritage listing with legal status of "Indicative Place" containing historic and Indigenous heritage sites. It contains habitat of threatened and migratory species.

  • The Delamere Range in the Northern Territory is located within the catchment of the Kakadu wetlands and hosts threatened fauna and migratory species.

    Social costs Okinawa to Australia

    Opponents of the exercise also point to the great social costs involved in bringing together large concentrations of military personnel. In the Philippines, Japan and many other locations, US bases have become the centre of acute social problems. The Governor of Okinawa has said the US bases on his island brought a major increase in levels of prostitution, drugs, alcoholism, rape, sexually transmitted diseases, and abuse of women and children.

    In Australia, an Anglican Church report from Hobart details frequent sexual assaults on juvenile men and women by US service people. There have been many other incidents like the assault by US MPs of Aborigines in an Ipswich pub during the 1997 Tandem Thrust war games and a February 2004 court case in Darwin when two US servicemen were tried for rape.

    There is also growing resentment at the spiralling cost of the militarisation of Australia and the seemingly endless list of new military projects. The Howard government has committed Australia to:

  • The Defence Capability Plan a 10 year $50 billion high tech military hardware spending spree.

  • Involvement in the US missile defence program ("Star Wars") through the US base at Pine Gap, upgrading the Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar (JORN) system and the $60 billion being spent on three air-warfare destroyers with long-range anti-missile (Aegis) capabilities to be based off the coast of West Australia.

  • A new US tank base in Darwin.

  • The US Navy's Sea Swap (rotating US Navy crews) program in West Australia.

  • Three new US "training bases" the Bradshaw Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range in the Northern territory and Shoalwater Bay in Queensland.

  • Adoption of a pre-emptive strike policy. This is both an excuse for intervention and invasion and a cover for the reoccupation of former colonial countries. During the election, Howard promised to form two "flying squads" of Federal police for use in the Asia-Pacific region "and beyond". His government is massively increasing expenditure on weapons systems that are clearly not for the defence of Australia but for operations in the Asia-Pacific region.

    This militarisation has been accompanied by a rapid erosion of long-held civil liberties. Integration into the US war machine brings with it massive secrecy and denial of national sovereignty. The Australian parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has complained that MPs are kept in the dark about the US base at Pine Gap and are "entrusted with less information than can be found in a public library".

    Demand for a "Peace Dividend"

    The peace movement and the overwhelming majority of Australians want an alternative to this madness. Every cent wasted on the military means less money for employment programs and the health, education and housing needs of Australians.

    A cut in Australia's military budget by ten per cent a year would produce a "peace dividend" providing major funds to satisfy community needs for jobs, housing, education, health care, welfare, environmental protection, transport and communications, culture and leisure. State Governments say an extra $700 million (less than two weeks military spending) spent on public hospitals each year would overcome their critical problems.

    With a ten per cent cut, Australia would still possess enough military force to defend our territory.

    Security is much more than weapons. Real security comes with jobs, steady food supplies, homes, clean water, warmth, education and health care, democracy and human rights. Trade, co-operation and aid with our neighbours would be more effective in promoting peace and security for Australia and the region than spending more on the military and exercises like Talisman Sabre.

    For more info contact Denis Doherty,
    Australian Anti-Bases Campaign 0418 290 663, or visit:

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