I was surprised recently on arriving at Sydney Airport to see the new Australian Border Force (ABF) decked out in their new military-style uniforms. The personnel looked like part of the Australian Defence Force instead of Customs and Immigration officers. There was clearly a new message being conveyed.
But perhaps I should not have been so surprised as I had seen online only a few days earlier the launch of ABF in Canberra with the mandatory 10 Australian flags backing our Prime Minister, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and the new bedecked Head of ABF.
Militarisation has become increasingly the norm in Australia eroding more and more of our civic domain.
Tony Abbott has been running scare campaigns on many fronts particularly against ‘illegal’ asylum seekers and terrorists. The language is clear, we are at war with asylum seekers in their rickety boats. Scott Morrison described Operation Sovereign Borders as a ‘military-led border security operation’. He added that the battle against people-smugglers ‘is being fought using the full arsenal of measures’. Tony Abbott speaks of the continuing war against illegals. Operation Sovereign Border is run by the Navy. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection refuses to tell the Australian people about asylum seeker boats because the matter is ‘operational’, i.e. we are in a military operation on the high seas..
Many of us had hoped that at last we were putting to an end the appointment of the Australian military as vice-regal representatives in Australia. But we are now back-tracking on that with General Cosgrove our new Governor General and General Hurley our new Governor in NSW. The military is the norm.
Our aid programs have been progressively militarised. AIDWATCH has recently reported that our ‘military forces manipulate humanitarian aid in order to achieve tactical and political objectives. While the military can play an important role in the immediate aftermath of a humanitarian crisis, particularly through the provision of transport and creating a secure environment, researchers have found that militarised aid is not effective and can cause harm to local communities and aid workers. It added ‘All Australian government activities in Afghanistan that are related to Operation Slipper – whether delivered by the ADF, AFP or Ausaid – are not aid. At a Senate Inquiry into Australia’s aid program to Afghanistan in December 2012 it revealed almost $200 million in military spending being reported as “aid”. The acknowledgement raises serious concerns about the close relationship between aid and Australian military and police forces in Afghanistan.’
The militarisation of Australia and our conditioning to it has been most evident in the extravagant celebration of the Centenary of Gallipoli and WWI. The Australian War Memorial has orchestrated an extremely well-funded campaign across the country, including schools, to depict WWI as the starting point of our history, our coming of age. We are encouraged to celebrate this disaster and forget our great civilian and peace time achievements in the decades just before 1900 and in the subsequent decade. There were remarkable civilian achievements; federation, the national parliament, a living wage, rights for women and an Australian ballot. We were world leaders in these and other civilian achievements but we are encouraged to forget them so we can focus on our military history and valour.
David Stephens, the Secretary of Honest History, wrote in this blog on 20 June this year that we will probably spend up to $A700 million on the Centenary of WW1. He said ‘The Australian spend per death [in WWI] is between five and nineteen times the average spend per death of the next five major combatant countries – NZ, Canada, UK, France and Germany.’ That tells us a lot about how militarisation has become the norm.
Our foreign policy has become subjected to our military dependence on the US. We are at the beck and call of the US military, usually regardless of our own interests. We do it time and time again – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Iraq again. Malcolm Fraser has warned us that the US is a ‘dangerous ally’. The US has many attractive features but war seems to be in its DNA. As I wrote in this blog on 15 June this year, since its independence in 1776, the US has been at war 93% of that time. It has never had a decade without war. It has launched 201 out of 248 armed conflicts since the end of WWII and maintains over 700 military bases around the world in more than 100 countries. Former President Eisenhower warned Americans about the industrial and military complex in the US. The warning should be for us as well as for the Americans about the militarisation of civilian institutions and values. Our foreign policy has been eclipsed by our mistaken military adventures and dependence on the US.
There is great danger that the militarisation of Australian history and our ready acceptance of military as the accepted norm will lead us to more and more tragedy. We used to believe that committing our country to war was the most serious thing that any government could ever do. That is no more. We go to war without even the Australian parliament being consulted. Tony Abbott could hardly contain himself at the prospect of sending 1000 ADF troops to far away Ukraine after the downing of MH 17. The military threat of ISIS is grossly exaggerated as Malcolm Turnbull has told us.
Henry Reynolds in this blog on 18 April this year. ‘Militarism marches on’, warned us ‘The threshold Australian governments need to cross in order to send forces overseas is perilously low. Because there has never been an assessment of why Australia has been so often involved in war, young people must get the impression that war is a natural and inescapable part of national life. It is what we do and we are good at it. We ‘punch above our weight’. War is treated as though it provides the venue and the occasion for Australian heroism and martial virtuosity. While there is much talk of dying, or more commonly of sacrifice, there is little mention of killing and never any assessment of the carnage visited on distant countries in our name.’
Militarisation is becoming more and more pervasive. We are sleep-walking in dangerous territory.