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Issue #1722      March 9, 2016

The culture of war

When visitors fly in to Canberra, they are welcomed at the baggage carousel by large, prominent advertisements promoting the wares of some of the biggest weapons manufacturers in the world. These include BAE Systems, Raytheon, Northrop and ThyssenKrupp. No sign of the usual sunny beaches, Red Centre or crocodiles or even Parliament House that tourists are more familiar with. The ads portray Canberra as the capital of a nation preparing for war. Unfortunately, as the 2016 Defence White Paper confirms, that is an accurate conclusion. (See GuardianDefence White Paper – Making Australia poorer not safer”, #1721, 02-03-2016)

In fact 10 out of 13 of the large display ads at the airport are images for war.

Advertisements are usually aimed at consumers, hoping that they will buy some brand of detergent, face cream or other product. But these companies are advertising something that ordinary consumers do not buy – warships, F-35 bombers and other war-related products.

No, the advertisements are selling something else – the culture of war.

The government is attempting to present warfare and a huge military budget as though all those missiles, warships, submarines and bombers are part of every day life, a necessity that protects us. That we need them.

Senator Lee Rhiannon has moved a resolution in the Senate stating that “weapons of war are inappropriate images to greet visitors to our national capital, especially with direct international flights to Canberra to begin later in 2016.”

Her resolution supported a campaign to remove the weapons advertisements. It was defeated with both Labor and the Coalition voting against it.

The 2015-16 budget allocated more on defence than on education. That was before the announcement in the Defence White Paper that it would be spending an additional $198 billion on new investments over the next 10 years on Australia’s capability to wage war.

Around $448 billion will be spent on the defence forces, bases and other facilities, essentially to support the US in its wars, over the next 10 years, and $1 trillion over 20 years.

The big question for the Turnbull Coalition government was how could it justify such huge outlays when $80 billion was being cut from schools and public hospitals. Thousands of public servants have been sacked, and the sackings continue. Their wages have been frozen, in some instances for a number of years. Pensioners, families and many others have also been hit by budget cuts.

The advertisers at the airport are big customers of the Australian and US governments and the main manufacturers of the government’s shopping list.

The task is not helped by the fact that the White Paper acknowledges that “there is no more than a remote prospect of a military attack by another country on Australian territory in the foreseeable future.” So the massive military expenditure and build-up of arms is not even aimed at protecting Australia’s shores.

The war or wars that are being planned are logistically at a distance. This is very evident from the types of purchases being made.

This also makes it more difficult to sell the concept of war and a massive military budget which will no doubt be funded by further cuts to health, education, social security and the public service.

Military industrial complex

“Innovation drives the development of defence capability. Defence, Australian defence industry and our national research community have a proven record of collaborating on leading-edge innovation that enhances the ADF’s capability,” the White Paper states.

“Over the next two decades, other technological advances such as quantum computing, innovative manufacturing, hypersonics, directed energy weapons, and unmanned systems are likely to lead to the introduction of new weapons into our region.”

This also explains why the Coalition, under both Abbott and Turnbull, have slashed spending on science and research at the same time as emphasising the need for more graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – STEM.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been diverted from important research being carried out by the CSIRO to assist farmers, to deal with future climate change, from universities and other research organisations. This money is being poured into “innovative” research for espionage, cyber warfare, weapons systems and other military activities.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly emphasised the importance of STEM graduates. The Defence White Paper places great importance on the question of innovative military research programs. It reads as though the structures are being put in place for an Australian military version of the Silicon Valley.

False hopes

The big selling point to the South Australian government is jobs. With the loss of thousands of jobs in the auto industry and the unlikelihood that South Australia will receive the contract for the new submarine fleet, the White Paper did bring some “good news”.

Describing the Defence White Paper as a “win for South Australia”, Premier Jay Weatherill said, “the defence of our country is now recognised as being more than army, navy and air force – it now has a fourth partner in Australian defence industry.”

The South Australian government sees jobs, jobs, jobs as the federal government spends some billions of dollars at the RAAF Base Edinburgh, Woomera and Woodside base and the building of future frigates in South Australia.

South Australia even has a Defence Industries Minister, Martin Hamilton-Smith, who has a military background. The military industrial complex is notorious for its inflated profits and corruption. It needs wars to feed on which result in death and destruction, as well as environmental carnage.

As generators of jobs, it comes a poor last for dollars invested*:

  • $1 million spent on military creates 8.3 jobs
  • $1 million spent on education creates 15.5 jobs
  • $1 million spent on healthcare creates 14.3 jobs.

It is criminal that billions of dollars will be diverted from health, education and other services of benefit to people and result in fewer jobs.

For those workers who lose their jobs in the auto industry or the building of submarines, the government should be looking at a conversion program to use existing and new facilities for the construction of wind turbines, solar panels, the batteries for storage of energy.

Military research funding should be redirected to support socially useful research, including the restoration of funding and jobs to the CSIRO and other areas where it has been cut.

* Hugh Gusterton, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, (08-09-2011)

If you wish to support or know more about the No Airport Arms Ads Campaign, visit

Next article – Editorial – e-health: Privatising your medical history

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