While the Australian government spends $70 million per day on the military and 30 000 US and Australian troops converged on central Queensland to fire live ammunition over land and sea in the name of “war games” I spoke at a rally calling on the government to rethink its priorities in this area.
I was filling in for Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, who was called away at the last minute, and addressed a small but enthusiastic crowd who were building a tank from biodegradable balloons – a lighthearted way to convey the serious message about how misguided our government’s priorities are. Just 6 days worth of military spending would cover the entire cost of Sydney’s inner west light rail extension, while just 1.5 hours of it would be able to fill the deficit in acute care facilities at two hospitals in regional NSW.
The full text of the speech I gave is below.
I’d like to acknowledge that we are meeting on Aboriginal land, the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and we pay our respects to the elders past and present. It is Aboriginal land always was and always will be.
I would also like to give apologies for Senator Lee Rhiannon who due to unforseen circumstances has been called away.
It is wonderful to be here today and celebrate balloons not bombs in the form of this light and colourful non lethal image of a battle tank.
Sadly most tanks are far from non lethal and this installation underpins, in a fun way, the ongoing horror of instruments of war. Instruments, that the Australian government spend $70 million a day supporting.
This month North Queensland is being bombarded by the talisman sabre war games which see 30,000 US and Australian troops make war on our fragile environment.
I acknowledge today’s convergence up north and wish them a safe protest.
In 2007 I joined the Stop the War Coalition bus going up to Yepoon to demonstrate against this awful exercise, in Shoalwater bay, that pounds the bushland and reef waters with live ammunition.
The area is alive with native animals and the waters are home to dugongs, dolphins and turtles that are put in extreme danger by the live shelling and use of sonar and other underwater devices.
These war games will cost us $100 million which most people believe would be better off spent on helping with the reconstruction of flood damaged Queensland. For many people the role of the defence forces would be better spent helping build the nation rather than pummeling it into the ground.
War games leave an ongoing threat from unexploded bombs which make the environment dangerous long after the troops have returned to their ships and bases.
Many of these American bases however are spread throughout the pacific particularly in Guam and even in Australia where our intelligence bases like pine gap are inextricably connected to the US war machine.
A war machine that has dragged Australia into military interventions across the globe. A war machine that is mirrored in the more than $25 billion spent each year on the military complex here in Australia.
Rudd’s 2009 defence white paper, “Force 2030” envisaged a huge build up in advanced technology and weaponry that would allow Australia to project its power from our borders onto the word stage.
In the 2010/2011 budget defence spending was increased by $1.57 billion to $26.8 billion much of it to be spent on the purchase of dubious weaponry still in the development stage.
One example from the 2010 auditor general’s report that highlights the inefficiency of the defence force’s spending was the lightweight torpedo project which after 12+ years and $391 million hadn’t produced one torpedo.
I won’t bore you with the long list of other examples except to say that our military spending is among the most inefficient in the world.
In 2010 Australia also signed a contract with the Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit to procure battle management systems which is a complex electronics system that permits the integration of modern warfare technology.
We also purchase drones from Israel and the Australian Greens have called for a boycott of these high tech war products, and on that note I would like to quickly acknowledge Sylvia Hale and Vivienne Portzolt who have recently been released from arrest in Tel Aviv.
But imagine the social good that could have been achieved with that $391 million in terms of health, education and international aid.
We also need to note the fact that the $1.7 billion budgetary increase for defence alone is 50% of the total budget allocation for diplomacy, a fact that is no surprise considering the priority now being given to the military.
A cut in military spending could free up much needed dollars to go into international aid and disaster relief and stronger support for the diplomatic corps. We need to be establishing cooperative and understanding relationships with other nations. We need to be acting as peacemakers not just followers of America’s aggressive interventions.
Australia as a nation has no reason to go down this aggressive military path when we are isolated, surrounded by water and have no neighbouring enemies. It is a path of pure folly which embroils us in wars that feed the potential for international terrorism and could make Australia itself a target.
Our continued involvement in the war in Afghanistan and the view among defence advisors that we will stay involved for another 10 years is indicative of the self fulfilling role of military thinking.
It is so like George Orwell’s continuous state of warfare in 1984 where the constant presence of distant warfare allowed the state party to control and dominate its citizens.
Sounds kind of like the war on terrorism to me.
Of course terrorism is one of the threats identified in the white paper which considers all the dystopian futures the world could face and insists that we prepare for them in what has been called an “offensive defence” position.
Instead of having an appropriate vision for how we can support the UN aims of peacemaking and non violent conflict resolution we continue to pour money into the military industrial complex to the tune of $100 billion over the next 20 years.
It is time we turned this incredible expense and inefficiency to building new hospitals, educating our young people, looking after the elderly, battling climate change and showing compassion and humanity to the billions of this world who have nothing.
Aid not tanks, balloons not bombs, love not hate