Government chooses ‘jobs and growth’ over peace with defence spending

Dec 16, 2021
Scott Morrison military
Australia has increaed its defence spending in recent years. (Image: AAP/Charlie Bliss)

Militarisation has become a means of promoting economic welfare, and the ‘defence industry hub’ in Geelong is just the latest such project.

Once upon a time, our political masters announced economic plans and industry policies. Defence and military spending were not central planks of industry policy. Something changed. In the Alice in Wonderland world of late capitalism, militarisation, war preparations, and defence spending have, apparently, become central to our economic welfare.

Hardly a month goes by without there being a new announcement that billions of dollars are to be spent on buying or producing new and more sophisticated weaponry. Our leaders have pledged support for Australian weapons manufacturers to sit in the top 10 global arms exporters. It is said with pride. An industry policy, based on destruction, death, and war! Oh, brave new world!

It is a disease that has swept the planet like a pandemic. Allies of the United States have all been increasing military budgets and pledging to reach the “target” of 2 per cent of GDP, an arbitrary sort of figure that will satisfy the needs of national and international “defence”. There is a uniformity about all of this. Economies are in dire straits but there are no recessionary fears when it comes to military spending.

In Australia there is, unfortunately, a political bipartisanship. Militarisation, for our politicians, means jobs and growth and not potential destruction. Australia is among so many other countries engaging in the greatest increase in spending on military hardware since World War II. The list of new warships, fighter aircraft, anti-shipping missiles, or drones, are spoken of in the gentlest and friendliest of terms. They are not offensive weapons but innocuous requirements for national defence and to keep us “safe”.

The latest of these initiatives is the creation of an Armoured Vehicle Centre of Excellence in Geelong. Who cannot but love a good centre of excellence? This one, however, is to be focused on building self-propelled howitzers and armoured ammunition resupply vehicles. No doubt they will be excellent, provide jobs, and despite keeping us safe, will also undoubtedly help to heighten military tensions in the region.

A week before Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the official announcement he travelled to Geelong. The Geelong Advertiser’s front page read “Scomo in Geelong — PM’s plan to fix local worker shortage”. Seven days later and that particular story about a new housing estate has been eclipsed by the new “centre for excellence”.

The prime minister’s statement is a beautiful thing. The project seems to have little to do with the capacity to enhance the killing power of armies. On the contrary, it “will establish a further strategic defence industry hub and future export opportunities for Australian businesses”.

“This contract will create a minimum of 300 jobs spread across facility construction, acquisition and maintenance, as well as generating ongoing support opportunities for Australian industry until the late 2040s.” So, there we have it. Jobs and growth. Peace and security, and we can have that comforting feeling that our interests are being advanced in the nicest possible way.

Our Defence Minister Peter Dutton must have been talking of something quite different. His emphasis was on the firepower of the deal. He gushed about the “initial” contract for 30 self-propelled howitzers, 15 armoured resupply vehicles, and weapon locating radars that help find enemy artillery.

Warming to his subject, Dutton explained that “the prime ability of the new vehicles is to fire and move quickly, avoiding enemy counter-attack. This project will mean a significant increase in the level of firepower and security for Australian artillery capability”.

Is there any contradiction between Morrison’s support of Australian manufacturing capacity and Dutton’s promotion of firepower and artillery capability? Clearly not! Dutton is, in his own words, “committed to keeping our region safe, while protecting our interests in a rapidly changing global environment”. What better way to keep the region safe than by a regional arms race? But our interests are being secured. Both Morrison and Dutton assure us of this and so it must be the case, or have we, like Alice, followed the white rabbit into Wonderland.

The choice of Geelong to be the base for this “centre for excellence” is entirely logical in the grotesque world that pitches militarisation as industry policy. The Ford factory in Geelong opened in 1925. Many thousands of workers were employed across the decades. They did what workers do best — build things. The things that they built were the product of capitalism, they were exploited by capitalism and finally tossed onto the scrapheap by capitalism, but the product they made had an intrinsically positive use. It served some socially useful purpose.

Their labour was not used to produce things that have the express purpose of destruction. All that has changed as the late capitalist world of the white rabbit and Wonderland turns reality on its head. Today, militarisation has become a means of promoting economic welfare. If that is the case, then heaven help us all.

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