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Environmental impact of US-Australian Talisman Sabre Military Exercises


June 1, 2017
Justin Tutty / Darwin No Waste Alliance & Australian Departmentof Defense & Ruby Jones / Australia Broadcasting Corporation

Analysis: Critics have expressed growing concerns about the impacts of "Talisman Sabre," a joint US-Australian military exercise set to begin in June 2017. Environmentalists fear the "unmanaged risks stemming from the unprecedented changes of a growing foreign military presence" including Special Forces, amphibious landings, parachuting, land force maneuvers, urban operations, air and maritime operations, the firing of live ammo and explosive ordnance from small arms, artillery, naval vessels and aircraft.

Special to Environmentalists Against War



Environmental impact of Talisman Sabre Military Exercises
Attempts to Obtain Answers from the Defence Department

Justin Tutty / Darwin No Waste Alliance

It appears that a self-assessment of the proposed activities has satisfied the Department of Defence that the matter does not require referral in accordance with the processes of the EPBC Act -- the routine process which would reasonably be expected to apply for a proposal of this scope and significance.

This sympathetic self-assessment has led to the application of internal departmental processes that appear to mimic those of the relevant environmental laws.

In doing so, the public have been denied the opportunity to contribute to decision making around the scoping of the assessment. This is a significant point of public access to due process that is intended to give greater assurity to all parties that assessment of likely risks and impacts are given due consideration.

If nothing else, this step of early public engagement in the assessment process offers a useful heads-up for all interested stakeholders.

I consider myself to be an interested stakeholder.

I participated in the formal processes around assessment for the previous instance (Talisman Saber 2015). I routinely visit the websites of both the NTEPA and the Federal Department of Environment for their registers of assessments open for public comment.

On the 30th of January, I met with my Federal MP, Mr. Luke Gosling OAM, to discuss some concerns I have regarding unmanaged risks stemming from the unprecedented changes of a growing foreign military presence in our town. I specifically described my interest in Talisman Saber 2017, and expressed my hope to participate in the assessment.

I followed up our conversation with an email that specifically requested clarity on whether there would be any public environmental assessment -- at that point there had been no sign of any.

On the 3rd of February, I met with my local MLA, Ms Lauren Moss, who also happens to be Environment Minister of the Northern Territory. Again, I was keen to describe my concerns: that inevitable impacts of the foreign military build up appear to be virtually unmanaged. I used the Minister's portfolio as an example, confirming that she had no knowledge of whether the war games would be subject to formal environmental assessment this year.

Again, I followed our meeting with an email, where I impressed upon the Minister that:
'I am alarmed though to find that at this late stage you are still unsure what role your department will play in assessing the environmental threats of this year's war games'

noting that:
'in 2015, the assessment report had already been published by February.'

and reiterating my request for
'whatever further advice you can provide.'

On February 9th, I met with Shar Malloy, incoming Director of the Environment Centre of the NT. I described my interest in environmental assessment of the joint military exercises, and my frustration at finding no evidence that any public report would be forthcoming, requesting urgent notification of any relevant information.

None of these attempts to engage bore fruit, before March 7th, when I visited the public library and saw the draft PER on public display.

I then wrote to the NT EPA inquiring about their role, and was promptly informed that:
Talisman Sabre 2017 has not been referred to the NT EPA under the Environmental Assessment Act, and therefore the NT EPA does not have a role in the development of the PER. However, the Department of Defence has asked for the NT EPA to make a submission on the PER.

With this detail, I note a number of observations of the deficient process around this years assessment:

Engagement
I'm glad that the draft was on display at the library, but I despair that my experience, as an independently motivated participant, does not bode well for community engagement.

My attempts to find evidence of an imminent assessment prove that key stakeholders and prior participants were not formally appraised of the process.

Inappropriate Self-assessment
We are assured that the PER is structured in accordance with Schedule 4 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations 2000

In fact, while this report reflects features of relevant federal environmental legislation, the process falls well short.

No rationale or justification is offered for this perverted process.

An internal process may well involve a high level of expertise, but nonetheless limits participation of those government agencies whose day to day responsibility and domain expertise is directly relevant to good decision making. The draft reads as though all relevant NT data has come from a desktop review rather than through formal engagement with relevant offices and branches within NT Government.

Bypassing the bilateral agreement on environmental protection denies NT authorities their role, and severely curtails public participation and an appropriate level of scrutiny.

The public are left unconvinced that our shared natural environment is being adequately protected given this assessment process bypasses a standard level of scrutiny that other projects routinely receive, let alone the level of assessment that may be reasonably expected of any proposal of this scope, were it coming from any other proponent.

Pertinent Detail Un-assessed
By avoiding the EPBC referral process, the Department of Defence avoids making any reference to past performance. Boilerplate for the guidelines phase of assessment asks the proponent to provide details of their environmental performance.

By sidestepping this process, we find a draft report that makes no reference to the oil spill experienced on the beach at Lee Point, Casuarina Coastal Reserve, in 2015. Despite this unexpected impact of amphibious landings in the previous instance of joint military exercises across Northern Australia, the appendix for amphibious landing in the Stanage Bay area doesn't even acknowledge this risk.

In this way, we can see that bypassing due process has allowed significant risk to go un-assessed.

Despite being unable to provide further detail within the timeframe of the public exposure period, I do intend to continue exploring just what role relevant NT authorities have played in this inadequate process. I remain interested in encouraging an appropriate role for Northern Territory representatives and authorities in managing the risks and impacts of the growing foreign military presence.




Exercise Talisman Sabre 2017
Australian Departmentof Defence

Exercise TALISMAN SABRE 2017 (TS17) is a biennial combined Australian and United States (US) training activity, designed to train our respective military forces in planning and conducting Combined Task Force operations to improve the combat readiness and interoperability between our respective forces.

This exercise is a major undertaking that reflects the closeness of our alliance and the strength of the ongoing military-military relationship. TS17 will involve a Command Post Exercise (CPX) ,which incorporates simulated forces and scenarios, and a Field Training Exercise (FTX) which will see manoeuvring of extensive forces in Australia.

What is Exercise Talisman Sabre?
The Talisman Sabre series of exercises is a major Australian and United States military training exercise focused on the planning and conduct of mid-intensity "high end" warfighting. This will be the seventh time the Exercise has been conducted and will involve over 30,000 Australian and US Defence personnel.

TS17 will incorporate force preparation activities, Special Forces activities, amphibious landings, parachuting, land force manoeuvre, urban operations, air operations, maritime operations and the coordinated firing of live ammunition and explosive ordnance from small arms, artillery, naval vessels and aircraft.

Where will TS17 take place?
The majority of TS17 field training exercise activities will take place in Shoalwater Bay Training Area, near Rockhampton in Central Queensland. Field activities will also occur in Mount Bundy Training Area, south of Darwin.

Personnel and assets will also operate from Australia in Darwin, Townsville, Brisbane and Canberra; and from the United States in Hawaii, Indiana, Virginia, Colorado and Washington.

When is it being held?
TS17 is scheduled to take place from late June through to late July 2017. Exercise activities in Shoalwater Bay Training Area will commence from early July.

How are the communities being involved?
The Rockhampton community regularly hosts Defence activities and regularly are being consulted, particularly in relation to environmental safeguards which will be put in place for the Exercise.

Defence is taking all necessary steps to safeguard the environment during TS17. The ADF protects endangered species and marine mammals through a comprehensive framework of risk mitigation procedures developed after careful analysis of all Defence maritime activities.




Darwin Activist Justin Tutty Arrested for
Protesting on a Beach Being Used for Exercise Talisman Sabre

Ruby Jones / Australia Broadcasting Corporation

(July 12, 2015) -- A Darwin activist has been arrested after protesting at a beach being used by US and Australian forces for massive war games.

Activist Justin Tutty said he waded out into water from Lee Point beach, north of the city, which was being used as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre, to protest what he calls the growing foreign military presence in and around the Top End city.

Exercise Talisman Sabre is the largest combined military exercise undertaken by the Australian Defence Force (ADF), and involves 30,000 US and Australian military personnel.

As part of the exercise Australian and US forces offloaded craft and cargo at Lee Point Beach on Sunday.

Mr. Tutty said he walked out into waters off Lee Point Beach in an attempt to block the movements of amphibious hovercraft. "I'm opposed to the growing foreign military presence in and around Darwin, so when I realised that the US Navy were landing on my local beach, I took the opportunity to make a protest," he said.

Mr. Tutty said he was out on the water for around an hour, before being arrested by water police. "I was quite close, I was surprised that they did not delay their activities until I was removed, they did continue to rush past me a few times before the police finally picked me up," he said.

"Ironically enough I was charged with disturbing the peace."

Mr. Tutty said his protest was in solidarity with the peace activists who disrupted Talisman Sabre activities in Rockhampton.

"There have been a series of protests over the last couple of weeks around Rockhampton where the major component of the war rehearsal exercises are taking place.

"Three separate groups of people have walked into the live fire training area at Shoalwater Bay," he said.

Mr. Tutty said when he was out on the water he saw two hovercraft landing vehicles which were bringing in jeeps and personnel, and people landing on the beach in parachutes.

He said he was in favour of Australia maintaining good relationships with the US, including a military alliance and joint training. But he said he thought the scale of Talisman Sabre was a step too far.

"I see a range of problems with the foreign bases in the NT ... they reduce our capacity to decide not to participate in any future war that the United States might embark on."

The ADF has been contacted for a response.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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