Indigenous Land destroyed by War Games

By: Dr Hannah Middleton | CPA - Guardian Weekly

The Australian government is hosting Talisman Sabre, a huge US-Australian military exercise in Queensland this July. The 15,000 United States military personnel and about 8,000 Australian troops, together with ships, planes and land vehicles, will cost Australian taxpayers over $50 million. The Talisman Sabre military exercise will involve firing live ammunition and explosives from both land bases and aircraft, sinking of decommissioned vessels at sea, the use of high power sonar, amphibious assaults, parachuting and land force manoeuvres.

Military exercises are an unacceptable use of Australia's unique environment and ancient cultural heritage. Australia is the oldest continent on the planet. We should be protecting it for future generations, not bombing it to pieces.

The war games are unacceptable because they are held on land which belongs to the Aboriginal people, they are designed to practice aggression and offensive military strategies, not to defend Australia or protect its people, and they may cause environmental damage in a unique and beautiful area near the irreplaceable Great Barrier Reef.

The exercises are training grounds for United States invasions such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Scenarios for future aggression are worked out and practiced during such war games.

The joint Australian and US military exercise will impact on the tourism and fishing industries, local populations, and have far reaching environmental impacts. There are better things to do with our money

The Rudd government's recent Defence White Paper introduced the largest military build-up in Australia since World War II. Annual military spending will rise from $62 million to $71 million a day. Billions upon billions will be spent on new submarines, air warfare destroyers, frigates, 100 strike planes, cruise missiles and more.

Taxpayers will have to pay out an additional $50 million for the Talisman Sabre war games – at a time when 70 percent of Australians do not support more money being spent on the military.

All the exorbitant military spending will do nothing for the pay and working conditions of the men and women in the armed forces and their families. It will do nothing for the security of our country.

But it will steal the resources needed for human and social needs, especially now working people are suffering from the recession. How many schools, hospitals and elderly care facilities have we had to sacrifice in Australia?

We have better things to do with our tax dollars than spend billions on aggressive equipment required to fight in US-led coalitions. A proportion of the military budget should be redirected to upgrading schools, reducing the cost of university education, supporting childcare, developing Medicare, assisting the needy in our community, maximising employment opportunities, solving the water crisis, and so on.

The struggle to reduce the militarisation of Australian society and the government's exorbitant military spending includes opposition to foreign military facilities and to military exercises on our soil, .the demand to bring Australian troops home from Iraq and the campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Encircling China

The Talisman Sabre joint military exercise is predicated on the need for enhanced interoperability of the two militaries so that they can work seamlessly with each other. It is designed to make Australian and US forces almost interchangeable, able to use the same equipment, use the same intelligence and follow the same battle orders. The orders come from the US.

All this means that Australian forces will be viewed even more favourably by the US as a partner in future wars and makes it more likely that we will heed the call to join “Coalitions of the Willing” yet to come.

The exercises are used to practice bombing and invading; they have nothing to do with defence.

This does not serve Australia's national interest. It makes us poorer but not safer.

The US is intent on encircling China to bring down its socialist government and take control of its vast human and natural resources.

The Obama administration is continuing the process of deploying its missiles (the so called missile “defence” project) in our region, moving military equipment and forces into the Pacific (particularly to Guam and Hawai'i) and computer war gaming a pre-emptive strike against China in 2016.

The Howard government and now the Rudd government actively back US moves, despite the danger this policy poses for our vital trading relationship with China.

But Australia does not have to become a cog in the US military machine. There is an alternative, one that is affordable and genuinely serves the defence of our country. An independent, made-in-Australia policy for reduced military spending and respect for the sovereign rights of nations to independence, equality and self determination would best serve the need for peace and stability in our region.

US bases

The Talisman Sabre military exercises will be held at the new United States base at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland. Two more bases are being set up. They are the Bradshaw Land Warfare Training Area and the Delamere Air Weapons Range, both in the Northern Territory.

They will be added to about 40 United States military facilities on our soil.

Do Australians really want to supply intelligence and communications for more US invasions or to host bases which spy on our neighbours and training areas for Australian soldiers to practice fighting under US command?

These bases increase the US hold on Australian foreign policy and undermine our independence and sovereignty.

They destroy Australia's security by making us a target for nuclear and terrorist attacks.

And they complicate relations with our neighbours, who know Australia is not neutral but is the deputy sheriff for United States interests.

The campaign to close the US base at Pine Gap also exposes US plans for global domination through the militarisation of space.

We urgently need a public enquiry into the US military presence in Australia.

The human price

The costs are born by the most vulnerable in our community. Young women and men pay with their bodies and minds for the “rest and recreation” of military personnel. These costs are rarely mentioned for fear of being branded “anti-American”.

The war games strengthen America's already prominent military presence in Australia which, as in the Philippines, Okinawa, Guam and elsewhere, increases drug use, prostitution, paedophilia, rape , sexually transmitted diseases and crime. We can expect similar consequences for communities around Shoalwater Bay.

There have been incidents such as United States military police assaulting Aborigines in an Ipswich pub during the 1997 Tandem Thrust war games and a February 2004 court case in Darwin when two United States servicemen were tried for rape.

Naval bombing ranges in Vieques, Puerto Rico are associated with a 27 percent higher cancer rate than the rest of Puerto Rico. Its Indigenous people, like those of Guam, Hawaii and Kwajalein in the Marshal Islands, are oppressed. What will be the fallout from Talisman Sabre 2009?

Environmental threats

The environment, including unique habitats, as well as threatened species such as dugongs and humpback whales, pay the cost of Talisman Sabre.

Environmental impacts identified by the Department of Defence include effects on air quality, potential harm to marine animals, fire potential, noise pollution, waste disposal and spills and erosion from amphibian craft landings and weapon target zones.

The Department of Defence does not include the presence of nuclear powered warships within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as an environmental risk.

Talisman Sabre will use areas of high environmental significance, such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and natural heritage listed sites.

Shoalwater Bay is considered crucial to the stabilisation and recovery of local dugong numbers. The region also supports nesting sites for green turtles and endangered loggerhead turtles, critical feeding areas for turtles and dugongs and is also home to 26 species of dolphins and whales including humpbacks and the endangered Blue Whale.

This delicate, pristine ecology is again going to experience blitzkrieg. At a time when climate change dominates our thoughts, the Talisman Sabre war games will spew vast amounts of greenhouse gases from all the ships, tanks, planes and explosions which it will unleash. And we have laws punishing littering! This is government sanctioned environmental terrorism.

Sonar activities are well known to cause whale and dolphin strandings and painful deaths. Sonar also causes massive deaths to fish and other marine animals. The environmental impact of military sonar is so significant, many countries are currently reviewing their use of military sonar and the UN is also investigating regulations of the use of military sonar.

Environmental impacts include effects on air quality, fire potential, noise pollution, waste disposal and spills and erosion from amphibian craft landings and weapon target zones, collisions with marine mammals, and contamination from toxic chemicals including red and white phosphorus and perchlorate.

The US military holds an unenviable position as one of the world's worst polluters, and yet the Australian government has invited them into environmentally significant Australian wilderness.

The US Department of Defence bases and facilities have left a toxic legacy worldwide. Project Censored estimates that “the US military generates 750,000 tons of toxic waste material annually, more than the five largest chemical companies in the US combined. Since 9/11, the US military has sought to exempt itself from all US environmental laws.” This complete disregard for environmental stewardship does not offer Australians any peace of mind in inviting the US military into our country and our sensitive natural environment.

Australia's unique environment, both land and sea, is under increasing pressure. Is it reasonable to add to this pressure by allowing the US to use such valuable and sensitive environmental areas for destructive and polluting military exercises?

It is time for Australia to cancel the Talisman Sabre military exercises, cut the overblown military budget, pull our soldiers out of Afghanistan, and Iraq and develop an independent foreign and defence policy.

Rockhampton – Yeppoon July 10 – 13
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Denis on 0418 290 663 or

CPA - Guardian Weekly