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Issue #1906      March 9, 2020



On 21st February, just a few short weeks ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison travelled to the Northern Territory (NT) to announce a major $1.1 billion upgrade of the RAAF Base at Tindal near the town of Katherine. Tindal has about 2,500 staff, a quarter of Katherine’s 10,000 population.

US Marine Corps Airmen load bombs onto a bomb skid at RAAF Base Tindal.

Tindal has become increasingly important as the federal government has been moving assets to the North and Australia’s involvement with the US military has increased markedly. The connection between the huge US base in Guam and Tindal has continued. The base also becomes a hub for the exercises Pitch Black (when Darwin residents are buzzed by low flying jets at night) and the giant Talisman Sabre war games.

Tindal has been in the news as one of the RAAF’s airports contaminated by the firefighting chemical PFAS. This has made its way into the water table near Katherine and affected the town’s water supply and local cattle farmers. The local swimming pool had to be closed. At Tindal the contamination from groundwater at the base fire station was 22.94 micrograms per litre. The safe drinking water standard across Australia is 0.07 micrograms per litre.

Tindal is also likely to be contaminated by some if not all of the toxins found on military bases. These include PCBs, dioxin, radioactive waste, herbicides, pesticides, and heavy metals like arsenic, benzene, and more.

The announcement of $1.1 billion for the military was bad timing for a Prime Minister who has been at pains to reassure the people that the government cares about their suffering during the bushfires. Promised money to rebuild farms, small business and villages has not materialised with so far only five per cent of funding reaching those in need, yet here he was giving out $1.1 billion for the US to house its strategic bombers at Tindal.

The priorities are strange. Real Australian suffering is ignored while the US military is funded and cosseted by the Australian government. There has been no outcry from the Opposition either on this bizarre show of support for the US while we are still reeling from the bushfire plus climate warming plus drought crisis.

Most of the money, $737 million, will be spent extending the runway and creating a new fuel storage facility to allow for larger aircraft to call Tindal home. Once complete, it is expected to house some of the RAAF’s 72 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, as well as US long-range bombers.

The Prime Minister put his finger on why the money was being spent, saying “it will be integral to our alliance with the United States, and [will] increase the reach of Air Force capabilities in the Indo-Pacific.”

We have long known that the US alliance is far more important to the Australian government than the Australian people. With the US alliance Australian governments feel they are on the winning side when it comes to competition in the military field and it is prepared to sacrifice as much treasure and lives as it can to secure the support of the US.

The moves around Tindal are clearly aimed at Australia’s role in the Indo-Pacific but more particularly at China. Why do we need a space for US long-range strategic bombers when we are not at war with anyone and there is no likelihood of anyone attacking us? The answer lies with the US alliance and our subordination to the US foreign policy to the detriment of our own. The drawing of Australia into the US war plans aimed at China is the most worrying aspect of the Tindal upgrade.

The Independent Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) points out in their 25th February media release: “Providing the runway and fuel facilities for United States long range strategic bombers such as the B1’s increases the military presence of the US in the NT. Together with the stationing of 2,500 US Marines in Darwin, this is setting up the NT as an Indo-Pacific base for US military operations, drawing Australia further into the war plans of the US aimed at China.” The drawing of Australia into the US war plans aimed at China is the most worrying aspect of this announcement.

US bases in Australia were first set up in 1950s, together with the ANZUS treaty. Since then, successive Prime Ministers have seen an increase in such facilities. Julia Gillard in November 2011 made the initial move to introduce US Marines to Darwin.

What we were not told at the time was that the deal also gave the US military the right to use our bombing range at Delamere, not far from Tindal, and Bradshaw Field Training area as well as the Mt Bundey tank firing area.

The resulting use of large tracts of the Northern Territory for live firing and bombing exercises will make land unusable for decades. Unexploded ordinance makes land off limits, the military cannot tell how long the bullets remain “live”. The risk to farm animals, machines or farmers setting off a bomb remains for many years.

IPAN activist Nick Deane makes the point that “[...] warfare; preparations for war; the manufacture of weapons and military facilities – indeed, all military activity, is highly polluting, highly damaging to the environment and a major contributor to climate change. Whether it be the wholesale destruction of landscapes (as in WW1); the slow decay of sunken shipping (releasing fuel and poisons into the environment); unexploded ordnance and landmines; cluster munitions or chemicals like Agent Orange – the overall environmental cost of waging war is huge. It has been estimated that six per cent of all CO2 emissions can be attributed to military activity.”

For decades the Communist Party of Australia, working with many other peace forces, has campaigned for the removal of US bases from Australia. Prior to the establishment of the US-Australian alliance via ANZUS in 1952, the Party wrote in their pamphlet, For Australia – prosperous and independent in 1948; “Reports indicate that a military pact between the US and Australia is awaiting signature ...Who threatens Australia? No one menaces us with aggression. Why then do we need a military pact with the American government of big business and brass hats?” In a David and Goliath struggle, facing the might of the Australian establishment and US power, there has been a relentless campaign to alert the Australian people about the dangers of immersing ourselves in US foreign policy.

The Party has supported groups like the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign and now IPAN and others who campaign for an end to the US-Australia Alliance which has had such a detrimental impact on Australia. Precious lives and resources have been lost in our support for US wars of aggression. Hosting US bases make Australia less secure rather than bring security. It is essential that Australia has a non-aligned and independent foreign policy.

Next article – Australia’s ABC – Used as a tool for Anti-China rhetoric

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