My Daily Advertiser column for today, 6 February 2018: Australia to become a leading merchant of death
“The government is going to pay us to build cluster bombs to maim the men, women and children of other countries!” read the caption to a cartoon in the Guardian Australia, and how appropriate it was, because that is what Malcolm Turnbull and his cronies are proposing.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australia is set to become one of the world’s top 10 defence exporters under an ambitious $3.8 billion government plan. The new defence export strategy released by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week aims to put Australia on par with major arms-exporting countries like Britain, France and Germany within 10 years.
The plan will also put us on par with Israel, and so I wasn’t surprised to see Christopher Pine spruiking this proposal as he joined the PM’s line-up, for Mr Pine has made many trips there. Israel is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of military weaponry, both hardware and soft, all of which, according to the Israeli sales pitch, has been ‘battle tested’ (in truth, we know that was in Palestinian Gaza and the West Bank).
If the big stuff only is counted, Israel ranks 10th in the world for arms exports, but if small arms, ammunition and electronic arms components are counted it would rank much, higher.
The government believes the strategy will create new jobs and bolster Australia’s shaky defence manufacturing industry, which struggles to sustain itself based on Australian Defence Force needs alone. A big boost in exports will insulate local manufacturers from the peaks and troughs – sometimes called the “valley of death” – of domestic demand.
“The centrepiece of the strategy will be a new financing facility that will make up to $3.8 billion available to Australian defence companies looking to sell overseas.
“It will provide confidence to our defence industry to identify and pursue new export opportunities, knowing that when a deal stacks up and export finance is needed, it’ll be there,” Mr Turnbull said.
But the government will also seek to boost exports in Europe, and the rapidly growing markets in Asia and the Middle East.
The government will spend a whopping $20 million a year to support the strategy: helping to identify export opportunities, making sure products are export-ready, and opening doors for Australian industry overseas.
A new Australian Defence Export Office will be established to implement the strategy, and an Australian Defence Export Advocate will be appointed to co-ordinate with the industry, and state and territory governments.
Sadly, Labor said it supported defence industry manufacturing jobs and the best way to ensure the industry’s strength was by expanding its export capacity.
The number of jobs this $20 million will create is very questionable, and of course could be invested in less lethal industries, as Richard Di Natale of the Greens said “If Bill Shorten is truly committed to peace in the region, if he’s truly committed to clean energy technology, to health and education services, then [he should say] that the billions this government promises to waste on exporting this technology to the rest of the world needs to be spent on things that really matter.”
Not-for-profit organisations are dismayed with the plan, with Tim Costello, the World Vision Australia chief advocate, saying the decision to become a major weapons manufacturer sends a shocking message about Australian values.