By ERWIN CHLANDA
“It is a total irony, when Indigenous Australians are talking about reclaiming their sovereignty while the rest of us are giving it away.”
It was a bullseye for guest speaker Alison Broinowski at the local Hiroshima Day annual commemoration, with its focus this year almost entirely on Australia’s relationship with the USA.
Peace group “actions” here in Pine Gap land, over the decades, have frequently been entertaining rather than bitter political demonstrations: Overweight Federal police officers trying to catch lithe hippies vaulting the “base” fence and after a chase gluing their hands to light poles.
Robin Laidlaw (photo at top) riding his emu blocked by a phalanx of cops.
More cops giving Captain Starlight dressed in drag a biffing inside a wagon fort of police cars.
And black clad Death with scythe standing on an upturned oil drum.
When the staff transports couldn’t be seen (they took the back-route via Ilarpa) a Yank wit explained they were using stealth busses that day.
Monday’s dinner in honour of Yami Lester OAM, a prominent Yankunytjatjara activist said to have been blinded by the atomic tests in Maralinga and Emu Field south of Alice Springs in 1953, was a lot more sedate and thoughtful.
Local politicians were invited but none turned up. Some had good excuses, says Mr Pilbrow.
The 55 people attending engaged in well-informed exchanges with Dr Broinowski and husband Richard, who between them have an impressive record as diplomats, academics, journalists and authors (22 books between them, and many articles on Australia’s interface with the world, particularly Asia).
Mr Broinowski was Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Central American Republics and Cuba and in the early 1990s, general manager of Radio Australia.
The dinner crowd – teachers, lawyers, nurses, First Nations organisations staff – was gender balanced and seemed aged between 30 and 86 (stalwart Maya Cifali).
Alice Springs Peace Action Think Tank convener Johnathan Pilbrow says the group has a core of 10, and 30 are on the distribution list.
The locals’ preoccupations became clear in their questions during the Q&A, and their unfailing approval of what the guests had to say.
Rachel Shields raised the question whether the Government had already decided secretly to create nuclear waste dumping grounds.
Dr Broinowski: We don’t hear about it because nobody is allowed to talk about it, and our media have given up asking about it or have become uninterested in asking. Wars take years to generate. Anyone who tells you wars happen suddenly is lying. It has been built up and planned over a very long time. And that’s precisely the process that we’re in at the moment. The nuclear waste issue is only one aspect of that planning.
Mr Broinowski said the public is by no means helpless. Traditional owners prevailed against the Federal government in a court case against a nuclear dump in the grain growing country near Kimba on SA’s Eyre Peninsula – this week’s news.
FROM LEFT: Alison and Richard Broinowski with MC Kieran Finnane and her book Peace Crimes presented to them as thank-you gift by the organisers.
Now Port Kembla locals are “very indignant” about the possibility that their town should become the home base for of nuclear subs.
Dr Broinowski said another example of war planning was Dick Cheney’s role in the Adelaide to Darwin railway – as the head of the company Halliburton and as advisor to American presidents, “a dead set war hawk”.
The rail was a project that flipped from too expensive, too hard “and suddenly it all became possible: American troops, who they were anticipating stationing in the north of Australia, would be able to have a back exit, together with their equipment, if they needed it.
“These are speculations, but don’t discount forward planning and don’t discount the implication of both sides of politics in this.
“Governments in Australia have never been forced to explain their actions or report on the consequences of wars. Never.”
Instead opponents of war are simply ignored.
Mr Broinowski: After the Iraq war “we [critics of the war] just got shoved aside until the issue died which is what they want. They want any controversial question to go away and die by being ignored.”
Dr Broinowski: “The mainstream media are killing it. It’s censorship by omission. The question is not even raised. The idea doesn’t even get floated. And that’s why organisations like yours are so important.”
Mr Broinowski: The wisdom always comes after the fact – with Vietnam, Iraq and now, questions are being raised about Afghanistan.
“What we’ve got now is the sense that China is an enemy, the United States is our friend, we need nuclear powered submarines. This could lead to nuclear weapons but we won’t talk about that now. We are mesmerised by this fear of China.”
To have “quite secretly” formed AUKUS (the military alliance between Australia, United Kingdom and United States set up in September 2021), in part to manage Australia’s acquisitions of nuclear submarines, “is a disgrace”.
“The US has something like 800 bases around the world. China has one, in Djibouti, and it was put in at the request of the United States to help control piracy in the Horn of Africa.
“China suggested a 10 point agreement as a way to solve the war in Ukraine and also brokered peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“[China’s] Belts and Road thing is not about taking over the world. They don’t have the hegemonic ideas of control that the United States has.
“The Chinese have a peaceful way of doing it – long may that last.”
We should not “provoke them into a war between us and the United States.”
Ms Cifali suggested the acquisition of nuclear submarines was in conflict with nonproliferation as they are “an instrument of war”.
Mr Broinowski pointed to an exemption: Uranium can be taken out from the safeguards of the international Atomic Agency and used in nuclear propulsion of a military vehicle. Australia is the first non-nuclear weapons country to have availed itself of this provision.
It is there because the United States had put on pressure when the non proliferation treaty was developed, and this may be encouraging other countries to make use of that opportunity.
Australia was at the forefront of developing the non-proliferation treaty, “under Gareth Evans particularly” but now “our reputation as a responsible international citizen is diminishing rapidly”.
Is there a way to get concerns through the system “which is so resistant to them?”
Dr Broinowski says Australia should consider the option of non-alignment: “That is at the heart of what we’re talking about.
“Our foreign policy and defence policy have been handed over to the United States. We don’t make it any more. It’s made in Washington. We just find out what it is and do it.
“The only way to turn that around is for Australians to rise up and say … if we want defensive weapons what we should have is armed neutrality.
“That has been proposed many times in Australia.
“Because it’s [now] new, because it’s something [about which] the media won’t say, been there, done that, that’s not a story.
“It is a story and could take off in the context of the dangerous situation which we are now facing. Keep your eye out for that.”
Brian Jeffries asked: Can America be trusted?
Dr Broinowski: “Unfortunately, no … the country seems to be disintegrating. The American government simply has not faced up to the fact that China, already since 2015, on many economic measures, is ahead of the United States.
“They won’t recognise that. America still wants to be the hegemon. China, Australia [and others] have to accept that. We all have our fingers crossed they all will do so.
Dr Broinowski: The present situation started with the Defence Strategic Review drafted in 2014 between Australia and the United States and turned into a report in 2015, “when the United States said, in effect, we are going to be able to do whatever we want to do in Australia and put whatever forces we want to put in Australia and they would be under American command.
“And they will do whatever we want them to do whether or not the Australian government know or approves. And that is the basis of everything that since followed right up to now.
“And that went through as if the Australian electorate’s eyes were closed.”
Mr Broinowski: “And that means that the United States can store nuclear weapons in Australia without telling Australians. They can park B52 bombers carrying those weapons without having to consult Australians.
“The United States is building a new base right now in the Northern Territory for storage of fuel for these aircraft. We have no territorial sovereignty over any of this.”
Will it change? Not likely – not since what happened to Gough Whitlam.
Dr Broinowski: “They knew. They got rid of him. They made sure he didn’t do it [close the US bases]. There is no Australian government that has dared to go there again. One thing governments care about more than anything else is staying in power. We have a Federal Government now that will not do anything that stands up to the United States. Not a thing.”
The combined intelligence base in Darwin is the latest example: “They will decide what sort of intelligence reaches Austraia, thereby conditioning the decisions that are made in Canberra if they are not conditioned enough already.”