the power and the passion and the protest at pine gap


Midnight Oil are back.

If only just for a moment, performing at the Bush Fire Appeal special concert Sound Relief.

For those people from overseas, or those Australians who have been living under a rock for the past twenty or so years, a bit of history.

Midnight Oil were one of the definitive Australian rock bands in the 80’s and early 90’s. They challenged the establishment on issues such as Indigenous Recognition, Corporate handling of Asbestos Exposure, and Government Alliances, just to name a few. Midnight Oil most famously protested with a free concert outside of the Exxon headquarters in New York over the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in March 1989.

Renowned for their human rights campaigns and political commentary, their lead singer Peter Garrett became influential in roles as the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation and having a seat on the International Board of Greenpeace. In 2004 Peter Garrett sought election in the seat of Kingsford Smith, New South Wales, for the Australian Labour Party, and has been the sitting member since. With the Labour victory in the November 2007 General Federal Election, Garrett currently hold the title of Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts.*

Which brings be me back to the Sound Relief concert. It was truly momentous for such a band to reform onstage with a leading member of the front bench of government singing and dancing in his very unique style, replaying some of their most famous hits.

The question that interests me is that how does Peter Garrett Rock Star Activist and Peter Garrett Politician reconcile these two very different personae?

In “Power And The Passion“, the band asked Australians to wake up and see the world around them as it really is. The song asks us to consider the Americanisation of our culture with “A flat chat Pine Gap, in every home a Big Mac, And no one goes outback, that’s that.”

Pine Gap (approx 18kms SW of Alice Springs) is officially known as the Joint Defence Space Research Facility. The operations of this facility are very clouded. The details of the facilities operation and full purpose are not clear. It is alleged to be staffed with American National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency staff.

On 20 February 2007 the Defence Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2008 was introduced to schedule three provisions:

1. To officially recognise the Red Crystal as the third emblem of the Red Cross and Red Crescent through the Criminal Code Act 1995 and the Geneva Conventions Act 1957.

2. To amend Section 124 of the Defence Act 1903 to update medical and dental benefits to members and their dependants of the Australian Defence Forces.

3. To amend Section 2A in the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 Section 9, so that the Pine Gap facility is suitably protected with laws of prosecution to deter unlawful entry.

This was in response to the events of December 2008, where the convictions for four protesters in the Northern Territory Criminal Court of Appeal were overturned. Chief Justice Brian Martin determined “that the defendants were entitled to challenge, at trial, whether or not the ‘prohibited area’ was in fact necessary for the purposes of the defence of Australia.” The amendments are meant to remove this entitlement and restrict the property and facility as a ‘prohibited area’. Essentially this will remove Australian’s right to even peaceful protest at the site, and enforce a seven year custodial sentence on anyone convicted under the act.

And take a look at the top of this post. Taking a picture like that of the facility is a criminal act under the code, and carries with it a seven year custodial sentence.

So what goes through Peter Garrett’s mind on this issue? Would he have continued the protest in New York against Exxon is they had the protection of government laws restricting such acts.

Peter Garrett railed against U.S. Military bases on Australian soil and Pine Gap in Midnight Oils song “U.S. Forces” with lyrics like, “Divided world the CIA, who controls the issue you leave us with no time to talk, you can write your assessment.

What will Peter Garrett’s written assessment of this new amendment be? Maybe it might reflect his comment to reporters in 2007, “Twenty-five and thirty years ago, like a lot of other Australians I was involved in actions and activities across this country, of course you change your mind about some things over time, no one listening to this interview would expect otherwise.”

Isn’t it nice to see that Peter is all grown up and reconciled with his past?

It was still good to see him dance his awkward dance, and listen to Midnight Oil again.

* these details were correct at the time of publication, and titles and roles may have subsequently changed.


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