The Guardian March 20, 2002


Ban wont stop Woomera protest

by Bob Briton

The authorities are threatening to ban the Woomera 2002 protest set to take 
place over the Easter long weekend. Last week Woomera's Defence Department-
appointed Town Administrator said that, while no decision has been made, he 
had "concerns" about the protest that could lead to a ban.

Mr McKenzie was quoted in the Advertiser as being concerned that 
protestors could block roads that service the detention centre and a nearby 
missile testing range. The Administrator also has "health and environmental 
concerns" about any campsite to be proposed by protestors.

The report left government concerns that the protest is shaping up as an 
impressive show of solidarity, co-ordinating the efforts of a wide variety 
of community groups from around the country.

In Adelaide, Hugh Calloway of participating organisation S11/AWOL told the 
Guardian that the announcement may well have been designed to create 
an atmosphere of confrontation and detract from the effectiveness of the 
protest.

Hugh said that Melbourne groups have been given the job of bringing 
showers, toilets and a water tender for the protest.

He also said that any suggestion that protestors would block goods and 
services necessary for the wellbeing of the asylum seekers was ludicrous.

"If they had any sense, they would let the protests happen and respond as 
needed to any minor legal breaches", Hugh added. He also pointed out that 
any such incidents are likely to be rare given that the breadth of the 
concern in the community at recent developments will be reflected in the 
composition of the groups taking part.

While the media seems to revel in portraying participants in recent major 
demonstrations as confrontational professional troublemakers, the reality 
is quite different. The Woomera 2002 protestors represent Australians from 
all walks of life  many of them will be from church-based groups like the 
30 parishioners travelling by bus from Brisbane.

Hugh suggested that people travelling thousands of kilometres to make their 
point would be unlikely to simply turn around and go back upon being told 
that their right to protest is to be denied them.

In any case, the protestors will not be allowed to go beyond the outer 
perimeter fence of the facility, which is secured by the SA Police 
Department's STAR Force and the Commonwealth's Australian Protection 
Services, attached to the Australian Federal Police.

These officers could be reinforced by guards employed at the now infamous 
detention centre for asylum seekers run by the private company, 
Australasian Correctional Management.

Woomera is not like other Australian towns. It is entirely owned by the 
Australian Government and is administered by an appointee of the military.

You must be employed to live there. Nowadays most of the inhabitants work 
for ACM at the detention centre. Up until 1991 the US spy base at Nurrungar 
was the main employer. The Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) spans 127,000 
square kilometres and is surrounded by a high fence.

The WPA is covered by special legislation in keeping with its secret 
military functions. For example, visitors refusing to give their name to 
Police can be imprisoned for up to two and a half years. There are 
restrictions on the possession of media equipment, as you would imagine in 
an area used for missile tests and other military purposes.

So unusual is Woomera's status that few eyebrows were raised when defence 
contractor BAE Systems offered last year to take over the running of the 
township and promote it as some sort of oddball tourist attraction. It is 
to be hoped that the offer is never taken up.

As well as expressing solidarity with the asylum seekers in detention, 
protestors converging on Woomera over Easter will also protest over this 
military aspect of the town. They will make the connection between its 
military functions and the nuclear tests that began at Emu Field and 
Maralinga in 1953.

They will point out the part played by the WPA in the nuclear cycle. It 
appears certain that the Commonwealth will override South Australia's 
legislation banning the location of nuclear waste dumps (including one for 
high level radioactive waste) in the area, despite the opposition of up 95 
per cent of the State's population.

The protests will also be directed at the accident-prone uranium mining 
industry. South Australia is home to the Roxby Downs, Beverley and 
Honeymoon uranium mines that have featured prominently in the media for 
their safety lapses.

While the protestors probably won't be made welcome by Woomera's military 
authorities, they have received encouragement from the dispossessed 
Indigenous people of the region. Kokotha elder, Eileen Wingfield, wrote to 
the organisers recently to welcome their initiative and to make one small 
request: "When you mob come up to Woomera please think about how we been 
fighting for a long time."

For more details visit: http://woomera2002.com/

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