DARWIN, Australia - Peace activists plan massive protests if
the federal and Northern Territory governments allow a deal to
ahead between the United States and Australia to station U.S.
troops and equipment in the so-called Australian Top End.
The Northern Territory, which enjoys a long familiarity and
friendliness with its Asian neighbors, is branding itself as a
regional gateway to attract the United States to build a major
military training center on Australian soil.
Federal Defense Minister Robert Hill confirmed Monday, after
meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Singapore,
that the United States was expected to announce a decision next
month to spend tens of millions of dollars to enable the training
its troops in northern Australia.
''It's to enhance mutual capability, ensure inter-operability and
assist a critically important ally,'' Hill told a press conference.
Last February, Australia committed 2,000 troops to Iraq, just
before its invasion, joining 200,000 U.S. and British troops
in the Gulf.
But Hannah Middleton, spokesperson for the Australian Anti-
Bases Campaign Coalition, attacked the federal government's
support for yet another United States military base in Australia.
''We do not want another U.S. military base on our soil.
does not have to be a cog in America's military machine,''
Middleton told IPS.
The Territory Greens have planned nationwide protests if the
facility is allowed in northern Australia.
''We will mobilize peace activists to oppose the U.S. base to be
built here, or to be built anywhere in Australia. We are closely
watching developments and we are ready to go on the streets to
protest,'' said Greens co-ordinator Ilana Eldridge.
''It is a critical issue for us,'' stressed Eldridge.
The United States currently has a base in Pine Gap in central
Australia, which is officially known as the Joint Defense Space
Set up by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in 1968, it is one
the largest and most important U.S. satellite ground control
stations in the world which processes information gathered by
Rhyolite signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellites and transmits
information to the United States.
But Defense Minister Hill told reporters the U.S. would not pre-
position equipment at the northern Australia center and it would
not be termed a U.S. base.
No sites have been identified yet in that part of the country, also
known as the Top End, which covers the Northern Territory and
part of Queensland state.
While the Queensland state government has so far remained
mum over the issue, the Northern Territory, however, is confident
can elbow the state out of a behind-the-scenes contest to attract
facilities where thousands of U.S. soldiers, marines and air
personnel would be sent.
The Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin said there would be
significant economic spin-offs for whoever hosts the base and
she believes the Territory is the logical choice.
''We have a significant (Australian) Defense presence here and
we have land and goodwill from (federal) government and sites
closer to where U.S. forces might be needed,'' she told IPS in an
Added Martin: ''We've been loud and clear about saying put it
training center) in the Territory.''
The military's First Battalion is currently based in the Northern
The Australian Industry Defense Network also agrees there
would be a multitude of benefits to the Northern Territory if the
facility was built in the area.
Mike Turner, of the network, said one of the benefits to the
Territory would be the influx of overseas military personnel to the
''Especially if it were to be located within the Territory probably
only location where those guys could rest and relax on the way in
or the way out would be Darwin,'' he said.
''So from the local point of view there would be considerable
benefit in accommodation and entertainment avenues for the
expenditure of U.S. dollars within the town,'' Turner told IPS.
The Northern Territory capital is closer to Jakarta than it is to
Sydney, down south. Also the relative ease at which Australians,
here, relate to their Asian neighbors to the north is generally not
evident in other parts of the country.
But this proximity with South-east Asia, especially Indonesia, is
what entices the United States to this part of Australia, especially
after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the 2002 Bali
The Bali bombings, which killed at least 190 people, have
blamed on the Indonesia-based Jemaiah Islamiyah group -- a
regional network that aims to create a pan-Islamic state in
east Asia and which several governments have classified as a
Some governments and certain intelligence agencies claim a
connection between Jemaiah Islamiyah and the al-Qaeda
and allege the Islamic regional grouping's members had trained
with al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan.
''This is why the United States is so keen to have a presence in
northern Australia,'' said an intelligence analyst, who did not
to be named.
''Being in the proximity of South-east Asia and in a western
country at the same time is something hard to find in the world,''
the analyst told IPS.
Added the analyst: ''The Northern Territory's proximity to
regional trouble spots promotes the early arrival of U.S. military
forces due to shorter transit times and reduces potential
that could arise due to late arrival.''
According to U.S. Defense reports, Washington is considering
moving most of the 20,000 Marines presently on the Japanese
island of Okinawa to new bases that would be established in
That however has angered the Greens.
''The U.S. approach to militarism is offensive rather than
defensive. We don't want the Northern Territory to become
Okinawa where people have to pay a heavy social price for
foreign troops,'' said Eldridge.
The U.S. presence in Okinawa has aroused bitter opposition
the island since the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by
© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service