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Issue # 1408      29 April 2009

Editorial

Peace is union business

The government used ANZAC Day to promote Australia’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan and pave the way for the release of its defence white paper expected later this week. TV channels ran with rather staged looking footage of Australian Special Forces soldiers executing “successful” military operations in Afghanistan. Defence Minister Noel Fitzgibbon was there in person, talking up Australia’s involvement.

The Australian troops had killed 80 Taliban fighters in a series of running battles over three weeks. “I think too often they hear the bad news, particularly when we suffer fatal casualties,” said the minister, signalling that these good news briefings would become a regular feature of government propaganda. A recent Age/Nielsen poll found 51 per cent of voters oppose Australia’s current involvement and two-thirds oppose any increase in the number of Australian troops in Afghanistan. Despite this, the government looks set to increase Australia’s involvement.

The Weekend Australian is predicting that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is set to announce Australia’s biggest military build-up since World War II. This includes 100 new F-35 fighters, a doubling of the submarine fleet, and powerful new surface warships, to meet what the prime minister sees as a far more challenging and uncertain security outlook in Asia over the next two decades.

A report released by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an influential right-wing think tank, called for an increase of more than 25 percent in military spending. Its author, professor Hugh White, warned that China’s growth meant the US, Australia’s main military ally, would lose its dominant position in Asia in coming decades.

“China’s challenge to US primacy undercuts the most basic assumptions of Australian defence policy, and poses big questions,” White said. “The long-term trends suggest that Australia has no choice but to spend more on defence or accept a steady decline in strategic weight.” China is the prime foreign policy target and its shared border with Afghanistan is one of the reasons that Afghanistan is of such importance to the US and Australian governments. Oil and its border with Iran are other reasons.

On the eve of the budget, with government departments forced to find “efficiency savings” via the government’s razor gang, military spending is being largely insulated. Yet Australia has no business to be in Afghanistan and should get out now.

Australia does not face any military threat from China, Iran or any other nation; it certainly does not need the offensive capacity that it has, let alone an increase in it. Australia spends close to half a billion dollars a week on military, very little of which has anything to do with the defence of Australia. Military spending creates very few additional jobs per extra dollar spent. It is one of the worst polluters of the atmosphere. Military build-ups have one aim – war.

A ten percent cut in Australia’s defence budget, especially on warships and fighter bombers, redirected towards social spending would have a huge stimulatory effect on the economy, and be of great benefit to working people. It would only take a few weeks of military spending to eliminate hospital waiting lists. Not many more to provide quality aged care and other underfunded and much needed community services – all labour intensive services.

A week or two cut from the war budget could raise pensions, expand public transport and meet many other important social needs. This would improve the security of people and their quality of life. It is in the interests of trade unions to fight for peace, for cuts to military spending and redirection of those funds to the social good and well being of people. Peace and disarmament are union business. Add the withdrawal from Afghanistan and a 10 percent slash in military spending to your demands this May Day.



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