Aid, church, and community groups have been aghast at Prime Minister Turnbull’s announcement in February to spend $3.8 billion to expand arms production seven-fold in order to make Australia one of the top ten global arms suppliers, up from number 20 on the present table of arms producers. He argued that this will create jobs and make lucrative profits for Australian companies, especially from sales in the Middle East, a “priority target” according to the “Defence Export Strategy”. The government intends to spend $200 billion on the military over the next ten years.
Critics have pilloried the government’s announcement. Former Australian diplomat Richard Broinowski wrote that “foreign weapons companies which inevitably control the trade, have a record of corruption and indiscriminate selling”, including to Saudi Arabia, which is supplying weapons to factions in the bloody war in Yemen, leaving seven million people in extreme hunger, and also sending weapons to ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Broinowski quotes sources that “corruption in the global arms trade contributes roughly 40 percent to corruption in all global transactions”.
As for the claim that increased arms production will increase jobs, Sue Wareham, President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia), replied that studies show “military spending is one of the least effective ways to create jobs”, and that far more jobs would be created by increased spending on clean energy, health, or education than on arms production.
If the United States is any example, a powerful arms industry distorts the balance of influence in government decision-making seriously, pulling national policies in a militaristic direction, and demanding increased budgets for largely economically unproductive spending.
Cumulative massive cuts to our overseas aid
The former Minister for International Development, Melissa Parke, considered the Turnbull announcement “grotesque”, and was shocked by the “enormous advertisements for defence contractors and arms manufacturers” at Canberra airport. Former federal member for Fremantle and a former senior lawyer in the United Nations, Parke is an Ambassador for ICAN. She also deplored the cuts to Australia’s aid efforts, to just 0.22% of our Gross National Income, despite being the fourth largest economy in the OECD.
Reports that Australia was to cut aid by another $400 million in the May budget prompted protests from aid and development agencies, but also from the defence establishment, senior officials of which have called the cuts “absurd”, especially given China’s growing influence in Asia and the Pacific. Allen Gyngell, former head of the Office of National Assessments, said further cuts would diminish Australia’s influence in the regions significantly.
Reports of Chinese interest in building a military base in Vanuatu should be a startling wake-up call for Australia. China has also been busy developing its economic interests in the Pacific, pouring billions of dollars into loans and major infrastructure works.
Aid and community organisations like Oxfam, World Vision, and Amnesty focused on the humanitarian consequences of cuts to aid. Caritas Australia CEO, Paul O’Callaghan, was alarmed that a further cut of 10% of Aussie aid, on top of the 30% cut in previous budgets since 2013, would cost lives and weaken efforts to improve living standards, health care, and education.