The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) held its fifth national conference in Darwin over the weekend of August 2-4, 2019. Darwin was the chosen location because it has, since 2012, played host to a US Marine Air-Ground Task Force. The MAGTF reached its full compliment of 2,500 personnel in July.
The conference began with a public meeting at the Charles Darwin University’s (CDU’s) Waterfront Campus. The meeting was attended by about 90 people – most of these were interstate conference attendees, but a good proportion were local.
The tone of the whole conference was set by Ali Mills who delivered the welcome to country message, and finished with her song ‘Arafura Pearl’. Senator Jordan Steele-John spoke about his commitment to the cause of peace. Lisa Natividad provided an overview of the situation in Guam (a teritory dominated by the American military), and Sue Wareham used the occasion to announce the launch of ICAN’s latest publication ‘Choosing Humanity’.
On Saturday August 3, the event moved to the CDU’s Casuarina Campus. The room booked for the event had the capacity to seat about 70. It proved to be a bit too small and additional chairs had to be brought in. Ten speakers addressed the conference – those from the previous evening plus Prof. Sue Harris-Rimmer from Griffith University, Dr Vince Scappatura from Macquarie University, Henk Rumbawes from West Papua and Nick Deane of IPAN (and MPG). The main topic was the need for Australia to develop foreign policy that is independent of its alliance with the USA.
In the afternoon the emphasis shifted to matters of the impact on the environment of war and preparation for war. Robin Taubenfield (Friends of the Earth), Donna Jackson (Rapid Creek Community Group) and Shar Molloy (NT Environment Centre) contributed to the session. There is considerable local concern about the Glyde Point area, with the suspicion that it is of interest to the USA government as a site for possible future, military development.
Following the proceedings, about 60 activists gathered outside the gate of Robertson Barracks, to protest at the presence of 2,500 US marines. IPAN had gone to some lengths to offer US marine officers a meeting and the chance to exchange views over a cup of tea. No response to IPAN’s invitation was ever received, but the protesters brought a cake with them in case some representative of the Marine Corps made an appearance. They also brought a gift for the marines, a small sculpture entitled ‘The Boot’. However, during the event, there was no contact with the marines.
Despite this disappointment, the good-humoured atmosphere that characterised the conference prevailed. Senator Steele-John gave a moving, impromtu speech. The participants felt that they had made their point well, without any angry exchanges. Disruption to traffic was minimal and no-one was arrested. Even the Australian Military Police guarding the gate managed a smile at the idea of giving the US marines ‘The Boot’. Refer to Green Left Weekly report.
On Sunday August 4, the conference was addressed by Margaret Beavis (Medical Association for the Prevention of War), Warren Smith (Maritime Union of Australia) and Dr Alison Broinowski (ANU), before some time spent discussing IPAN’s next moves and a plenary session at which a number of resolutions were adopted.