Swan Island Incursion, 31 March 2010

Swan Island Incursion, 31 March 2010


On March 31, 2010, four peace activists swam across the fast moving strip of water separating Queenscliff from Swan Island, and entered the unlocked Swan Island Training Area. This was the first of an annual series of non-violent demonstrations about the facility known as the Swan Island Convergence, seeking to publicize the base’s role in training ADF and ASIS personnel for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular.

The 2010 and 2014 incursions and the subsequent events are outlined below.

10 March 2010 incursion

The members of the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective remained in the facility for several hours to protest against Australian involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Before they were discovered and arrested they closed down several pieces of electrical equipment, including one marked “emergency satellite shutdown”. The parabolic satellite antenna shown below measures approximately 7 metres in diameter.  In June 2010 all charges were dismissed by a Victorian magistrate.

The Swan Island Training Area is located on the eastern part of Swan Island, near Queenscliff in Victoria.  It is used primarily for the training of ASIS agents, and also is the location of a substantial ASIS communications facility and a special operations storage site. In addition to its ASIS role, the Swan Island Training Area is also used by ADF special forces, especially from the Special Air Service Regiment.


Government sources



Swan Island, Non-Violence Stories: Experiments With Truth

Bonhoeffer Peace Collective on Swan Island, Simon Moyle, 23 June 2010

Here’s the video of Jess and Simon at Swan Island that we obtained through the police evidence brief. They’ve obviously cut quite a lot of the footage out because we just end up next to the dish and then move away again.

Victory in court for Stop the Afghan War peace protestors – followed by nine more arrest, IndyMedia Australia, 17 June 2010

Four peace protestors the “Bonhoeffer 4” who trespassed on and successfully shut down for a day, the secretive Swan Island military base on March 31st have had their charges dismissed by a Geelong Magistrate. Despite pleading guilty to trespass, the Magistrate chose to use a little known provision of the crimes act which allowed him to dismiss the charges altogether! Forty protestors soon after returned to the gates of the base for a further protest calling for Australian troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan and nine people who refused to move were arrested for hindering police.

Bonhoeffer Four charged after entering Swan Island Base, by Flowerpower, IndyMedia Australia, 31 Mar 2010

The Bonhoeffer Four successfully infiltrated the secret Australian military base on Swan Island near Queenscliff this morning. After swimming to the island at 5.30AM they spent several hours on the base shutting down the switchboard, a satellite and causing lock down on the base, effectively disrupting the Australian war effort in Afghanistan. The four have been charged with trespass and have been held at the Ocean Grove police station. According to a colleague of the activists, they not only successfully entered the the secret based used by the SAS and ASIS but succeeded in shutting down military hardware including a switchboard and pressing a button marked “emergency satellite shutdown” which presumably did just that!.This highlights the fact that Australia’s biggest contribution to the U.S. War machine is probably our satellite stations at Pine Gap and places like Swan Island which help control the U.S. nuclear arsenal, communication technology, missiles and predator drones. In 2005 four Christian peace activists entered the Pine Gap base to highlight this fact and were eventually acquitted.

The Bonhoeffer Peace Collective are Rev. Simon Moyle (Baptist Minister), Jacob Bolton (Community Worker), Jessica Morrison (University Lecturer) and Simon Reeves (Social Worker) have called themselves the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective after Kevin Rudd’s favourite theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was also an antiwar activist. They are inspired by the words of Bonhoeffer – “The followers of Christ have been called to peace. And they must not only have peace but also make it. His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. In so doing they overcome evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.”

The group outlined their motivation for the peace action in a number of statements: “Both Swan Island and the war on Afghanistan are out of sight, out of mind. It’s time to end further suffering of the Afghan people and our soldiers by bringing our troops home,” the group said. “In the week before the first Easter, Jesus blockaded the temple and turned the tables inside. Today we are imitating Jesus’ disruption”, the group said. “Sometimes you have to get in the way of injustice”.

War protesters ‘switch off’ defence satellite dish, Reid Sexton and Dan Oakes, The Age, April 1, 2010

Four anti-war protesters claim they tampered with a satellite dish and power supply at a secretive Victorian military base yesterday before being detected and arrested by police. The activists allegedly broke into the Swan Island defence base, where spies and special police units are believed to receive SAS training, in Port Phillip Bay about 6am. They will not say how they got over the fence but claim to have spent up to two hours inside before being caught, despite making no attempt to hide. The group of Christian activists called the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective says it split in two after breaching the perimeter. The first group allegedly went to the centre of the facility. Protester Jessica Morrison said they opened a switchboard and turned off the two main switches, which security later told her cut power in the area. They then came across a 10-metre satellite dish, she said, and hit a button marked ”emergency stop”. She said it was not until she and Baptist minister Simon Moyle approached a building with a civilian security guard in it at 8am that police were called. The second group allegedly went to block the base’s front gate and unveiled a ”Closed War Out of Order!” banner. Ms Morrison said the stunt was in protest at war in Afghanistan. Police yesterday confirmed they arrested four people at Swan Island. All four have been charged with one count of trespassing on Commonwealth property land and will face the Geelong Magistrates Court on May 12. A Defence spokeswoman refused to deny the satellite dish had been switched off, saying only: ”Defence operations are unaffected.”

Satellite dish, Swan Island, 2010

Source: Bonhoeffer Four charged after entering Swan Island Base, by Flowerpower, IndyMedia Australia, 31 Mar 2010

Parabolic antenna, Swan Island

Aerial photo of antenna, 2009. Diameter is approximately 7 metres.
Source: Department of Planning & Community Development, Victoria.

The Bonhoeffer 4, Frontline Films, YouTube, 14 July 2010

Four nonviolent Christian activists enter Shoalwater Bay Training Area to stop the Talisman Saber exercise.

The 2 October 2014 incursion

Report of the Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Trespass Incident at Swan Island on 02 October 2014, Department of Defence,


Australian peace activists detained and assaulted by SAS on Swan Island, Media Release Swan Island Peace Convergence, 2 October, 2014: 5pm update


Before dawn this morning, 8 peace activists entered the top secret Swan Island military base near Queenscliff.The group entered in the early hours of the morning to nonviolently disrupt preparations for the imminent war in Iraq. Four of the activists were discovered, detained and assaulted by SAS soldiers on the base. The treatment of the activists by the SAS bordered on torture.

The experiences of the four were:

  • Forcibly stripped naked, handcuffed, struck on the face and choked
  • Activists clothing were cut off with knives
  • Hessian bags were placed over their heads and told “welcome to the bag motherfucker and asked “do you want to go for a swim” before being dragged naked across the ground
  • SAS personnel stood on activists’ heads and backs causing injury and said “If you move we will kick you in the face”
  • Dragged and dropped on the ground when didn’t respond to questions.

When the Victorian Police arrived on the scene the assaults ceased. “I was thankful for the arrival of the police, when they got there I finally felt safe” said peace activist Sam Quinlan. An ambulance was called to the front gate as activists were released from custody to attend to activists’ injuries. “The use of these tactics on citizens of Australia peacefully protesting the actions of the SAS is an alarming indication of the use of torture SAS is employing in Iraq, Afghanistan and other undisclosed locations” says Greg Rolles an activist who entered the military facility. “We were trying to disrupt the preparations for this imminent war and are concerned that Australia’s involvement will only play into the hands of militant extremists” said Jasmine Pilbrow another member of the group.

The group are particularly concerned about the role of the SAS, who use Swan Island in their ongoing role in Afghanistan as well as likely roles in Iraq and Syria.

“There are clear alternatives to bombing ISIS” said Fiona Taylor who is currently at the Swan Island main gate. “Blocking oil supply channels, having arms embargoes and support of a regional solution all will cripple ISIS without breeding another generation of militant extremists”.

Responses to common objections to the SAS assaults, Swan Island Peace Convergence, 4 October 2014

Having noticed some common objections to our reports of SAS assault in the last few days, we offer the following as clarification of the context of these actions.

The common objections are in bold, and our responses in plain text.

Didn’t you deserve it?

No one deserves this kind of treatment for any reason. It is unlawful and abhorrent.

Australian and international law provides clear guidelines for the reasonable use of force and these were breached in ways that fit the definition of torture.

We are concerned that this behaviour is indicative of how SAS troops are being conditioned to behave. It appears that the automatic response of the SAS troops was extreme brutality and humiliation regardless of the circumstances. We do not think that this is how professional soldiers should be being conditioned to behave.

But you broke the law. Doesn’t that justify any response?
The group was engaged in a peaceful act of civil disobedience. The tradition we follow is inspired by people like Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who insisted that when engaging in civil disobedience, one must do so “openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to pay the penalty of imprisonment.” For this reason, we do not attempt to evade the legal consequences of our actions, but openly accept the charges which result from them. All of those discovered in the facility, both by Victoria Police and the SAS, were walking openly around and would not have attempted escape. This has been the method of all nonviolent actions so far used by the Swan Island Peace Convergence in its five year history, and both the police and base staff knew this.

It is not inherently violent to break the law – peaceful civil disobedience has a long and illustrious history in social change. In this case the civil disobedience was done to disrupt the violence being waged by our government in our names. It followed a long period of many of the group engaging with politicians and using other legal means before taking this step.

What were you expecting?
The group was expecting to be arrested by Victorian police in accordance with the law. They were expecting reasonable and proportionate force to be used to secure their arrest by Victorian police. They were expecting to be charged with Commonwealth trespass and brought before the courts.

It is unclear whether the people who detained the activists met the strict requirements of those who are authorised to do so. Regardless, the method of detention and subsequent assault on all four protesters was not only grossly disproportionate, but is also believed to be completely unlawful.

How could the SAS be sure you weren’t terrorists?
The group who went on to the Swan Island military base were part of the Swan Island Peace Convergence, a group which has been doing nonviolent actions at Swan Island and surrounds for the past five years, including a blockade of the Swan Island base, constituted by placing their bodies in front of the entry gate. At no point has anyone – police, the public, or Defence personnel – been threatened with violence or had any violence directed towards them by any member of this group. The policing strategy of having only two policepersons at the blockade during the Convergence bears this out. For the past three years, the blockade of the gate has held for the duration of the Convergence. For the past two years, police have not even made an attempt to break the activists’ blockade of the facility.

The Swan Island Peace Convergence includes a rigorous training regime in nonviolent discipline, which includes role plays in which people practice maintaining that discipline under stressful situations. It is enormously to their credit that activists maintained this discipline under severe provocation from SAS personnel.

There have been two previous incursions into the base by the group, both of which ended with arrests by Victoria Police, and nonviolent discipline being maintained by activists, even under provocation. The SAS would have been well aware of the nonviolent discipline of this group given our extensive history of actions there, and therefore known we posed no threat. This was the third (and final) day of action at the facility during the convergence, a day when the group has often attempted entry to the base.

All of those attacked by SAS personnel had their hands visible, palms upwards and outwards, and did not attempt to escape. At least two of them indicated verbally that they were peaceful people. None adopted a threatening stance.

There were a number of police stationed on the island at the time of the incursion, including at least two on dirtbikes as well as others in a police transporter, who could easily have been called to detain the protesters in a timely fashion, as all of them were in possession of two way radios which were in use.

The SAS also clearly knew that these were a group of nonviolent protesters because during their interrogation of the activists they referenced an interview that Greg had done earlier in the morning on 3AW.

How can you be sure they were SAS, not security guards?
The men were in plain clothes, comprising coloured tops and jeans. At least one wore a black mask wrapped around his face, leaving just his eyes showing. All assailants insisted the activists not look at their faces. When police arrived, they told Greg that the SAS have the authority to detain. Other members of the group were told by police while they waited in the police transporter that “Defence personnel, including the SAS, have the power to detain”. The interrogation techniques used on the activists are known to be used by SAS personnel. The Department of Defence has since confirmed in media reports that ADF personnel detained some members of the activist group.

Who should have conducted the arrests?

The role of arrests on Commonwealth land should be primarily that of the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Interestingly, no AFP were sighted by activists during the 4 day blockade of the island or by those who actually entered the island. The AFP can authorize Victoria Police to act on their behalf under a memorandum of understanding between the two Agencies. This can be viewed here. There were substantial numbers of Victoria Police on the island, in watercraft near the island and on the mainland. For this reason, we would argue that it ought properly to have been the role of Victoria Police to arrest, detain and process any persons found to be trespassing on the island. By the point at which any protesters were arrested, media releases had been put out and a radio interview had been conducted by a protester on the island. There was at least two hours of public notice that protesters were trespassing on the base  before any arrests/ detainments. Given the smallness of the island and the ample numbers of police, it seems unreasonable that any one else should have been involved in their arrest or detainment.

Who else could detain or restrain the protesters on the military base?

The authority for any persons other than the AFP or their deputized agents to make arrests on Defence Premises is covered by the Defence Legislation Amendment (Security of Defence Premises) Act 2011 (“the Act”) available here.

In order for anyone else on the island to lawfully ‘detain or arrest’ the protesters whilst on Defence Premises, they would need to have firstly been either “Contracted Defence Security Guards) or “Security Authorised Members of the Defence Force.”  Special authorizations and training are necessary for Defence Personnel or private individuals to be classed as these persons.  These are detailed under S 71(B) and(C) of the Act.

If the persons who detained and tortured the protesters were specially authorized persons under the Act, they were required to identify themselves, to tell the protesters what offence they were reasonably suspected of and to only use reasonable force. They would then be required to hand the protesters into police custody at the earliest possible opportunity.

None of the persons who detained/ restrained and tortured the protesters identified themselves. None of the persons informed the protesters of an offence. All of the protesters state that when they became aware of the plain clothed persons who detained and assaulted them that they positioned themselves legs together, hands up with palms facing outwards and made no attempt to resist in any way.  At least two made verbal declarations to the fact that they were nonviolent protesters. Under these circumstances, even if the persons who detained the protesters were specially authorised to do so, there was no justification for any use of force at all.

Is it hysterical to refer to the treatment as ‘torture’?

According to the UN Convention against Torture, “… ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

One SAS member stripped one of the activists naked, put a hessian bag over his head, bound him hand and foot with cable ties, and threatened to rape him anally with a stick if he did not give him the information he demanded. Another SAS member, having bound, stripped and hooded another activist, threatened to drown him if he did not give him the information he demanded. These acts causing mental suffering clearly fit the definition of torture.

There is clear and extensive case law and UN Reports that describe hooding, and particularly hooding in conjunction with other coercive interrogation techniques, as both ‘torture’ and ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ Threats of sexual violence, drowning and beatings are clearly coercive interrogation techniques.

What proof do you have?

The base has CCTV cameras throughout so it is possible video footage of the incident exists. Therefore the evidence is being held by the base, and possibly police, and we hope it will be made public. We have submitted FOI requests for any footage. All activists testimonies have also been recorded in accordance with legal procedures.