Thursday, February 15, 2007

US military base to be built in Geraldton, WA

Thursday, February 15, 2007: The United States military will build a new communications base at Geraldton in Western Australia. Defence Minister Brendan Nelson says he has agreed to host a ground station for a new US military satellite communications system. The plans for the base come after three years of covert negotiations between Washington and Canberra. The new US base will be built at the existing Australian defence facility at Geraldton and will be used by the Americans to monitor regions like the Middle East. It would be similar to the Pine Gap joint military facility in the Northern Territory...

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Dr Nelson says the details of the agreement will be finalised soon. The Government says it will have full knowledge of the functions and purpose of the base. He said negotiations began in 2003 and were continuing. Details would be made public once the details were finalised. More ground stations might be built at other locations in Australia, Dr Nelson said.

The new US communications base will be the first since the Pine Gap spy base began operating in the Northern Territory more than 20 years ago. Firm plans for the base come after three years of secret negotiations between Washington and Canberra. The base will be a key component of a system carrying orders and intelligence to US and allied troops in the field in some of the world's major trouble spots.

Labor frontbencher Peter Garrett has long campaigned against such facilities but today he is not commenting. "My views are clear and they've been clear since I've come into Parliament," he said. Western Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says establishing the new base is a dangerous move. "It puts a threat on Perth's doorstep and certainly on Geraldton's doorstep," she said. Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja is also wary. "I'm sure it suits the Government's purposes, I'm not sure how the Australian population will think though," she said.

The deal further entrenches Australia's military relationship with the United States. Visiting fellow at the Australian Defence Force Academy Philip Dorling said that once the base was operating, it would be almost impossible for Australia to be fully neutral or stand back from any war in which the US was involved.

Dr Dorling said the base would have direct military significance and would be a military target, similar to the submarine communications base at North West Cape and the joint facility at Pine Gap with its missile early warning system.

"You knock out the ground station and you knock out the system," Dr Dorling said. "Once again the Howard Government is extremely eager to add another strand to Australia's alliance with the US. If the Americans are involved in conflict anywhere in the Indian and Pacific oceans, basically our half of the hemisphere, Australia will be directly involved by providing vital intelligence and communications links."

He said the Geraldton base would be the link through which the United States would control the satellites. "Geraldton is as far west as you can get on the Australian land mass. That means they can put the satellite as far west as possible so that the Middle East, particularly the Persian Gulf, and south Asia will fall within its footprint," Dr Dorling said.

Construction could reportedly begin within six months. It is the first big US military installation to be built in Australia since the controversy surrounding the joint spy base at Pine Gap more than two decades ago.

The base, about 370 kilometres north of Perth, will control two of five geostationary satellites — those with the highest priority parked over the Indian Ocean to monitor the unstable Middle East. The network will be the military equivalent of the new generation 3G mobile phone system and will provide front-line military units instantly with high quality intelligence information, graphics and maps.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson confirmed that talks were continuing with the US Defence Department which wanted to build a ground station for its Mobile User Objective System, an array of satellites being developed to provide new generation communications for US and allied forces.

Dr Nelson provided the information in response to a written question from Labor backbencher Daryl Melham.

Mr Melham said it was remarkable that the negotiations for the base had been going in secret for more than three years without the Government being prepared to make any public announcement. "This is deplorable," he said.


Contact the Defence Minister:

The Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson MP: Minister for Defence
Suite MF149, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600
Tel: 02 6277 7800
Fax: 02 6273 4118
E-mail: (Please note: e-mail correspondence should include your full name and postal address. Responses will not be made by e-mail.)

US military base to be built in WA - ABC News
US communications base for WA - News Ltd
US base for WA - Sky News
US gets military base in Western Australia - The Age
Contact Dr Nelson, Minister for Defence

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