Pine Gap protesters' convictions quashed

February 22, 2008 - 5:02PM

Four anti-war protesters who broke into the Pine Gap spy base have had their convictions quashed, casting doubt on the national security legislation used to charge them.

Donna Mulhearn, 39, Tim Dowling, 52, Adele Goldie, 31, and Bryan Law, 52, were the first Australians to be charged under the 1952 Defence (Special Undertaking) Act (DSU Act).

The four protesters were found guilty of using bolt cutters on a high security fence and entering the joint US-Australian spy base near Alice Springs in December 2005.

It was the first time intruders had reached the technical support area and then federal attorney-general Philip Ruddock approved the use of the charges under the act, which carried a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

The members of Christians Against All Terrorism claimed they entered the facility because it played a role in the targeting of missiles in Iraq and was involved in "crimes against humanity".

They sought to argue it was an instrument of aggression and not a defence facility but an Alice Springs judge ruled they could not debate the point in court.

The protesters were convicted last June and together were fined more than $3,000.

The Commonwealth DPP appealed against what it said was the leniency of the sentence while the defendants appealed against their convictions.

In the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal in Darwin on Friday, the full bench unanimously acquitted all four defendants of their convictions, saying there had been "a miscarriage of justice".

"The defendants were deprived of a possible defence, mainly establishing that the facility was not necessary for defence purposes," Chief Justice Brian Martin said.

The Commonwealth DPP immediately sought a retrial.

"There doesn't seem to be much point going through the exercise again, what's to be achieved?" said Justice Trevor Riley before the full bench declined the application.

"What's to be gained in relation to these individuals and the community in ordering a retrial?"

Outside the court, Mr Law said some of the protesters planned another incursion at Pine Gap on Anzac Day.

"We are going to walk across the desert, into the Pine Gap base, into the technical area and challenge the government's right to maintain a terror base in our country," he said.

"Pine Gap is not a base for the defence of Australia, Pine Gap is an instrument of international aggression."

Ms Mulhearn, a former "human shield" during the invasion of Iraq, said the ruling raised questions about the legitimacy of an outdated act.

"It's a draconian act and it was an extremist move that the act be used against us," she said.

"It means the federal government will have to look at the Defence (special undertakings) Act and the application it has now for any other activists who want to participate in non-violent civil disobedience at Pine Gap."

Ms Mulhearn said the protesters sought to put Pine Gap on trial.

"Let's hope that another opportunity arises where other people can do just that," she said.

The four were still convicted of minor charges under the criminal code, including damaging commonwealth property.

2008 AAP
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