Pork Missile: Government fires cash at weapons-maker EOS in Battle for Eden-Monaro

ACT remote weapons systems manufacturer, Electro-Optic Systems Holdings, that has hitched its wagon to countries known to be engaged in gross violations of human rights and likely war crimes, wins big from the Coalition’s weapons announcement on eve of election, writes Michelle Fahy.

The Coalition Government’s announcement of the purchase of 251 more remote weapons systems manufactured by the Canberra and Queanbeyan-based Electro Optic Systems (EOS) Pty Ltd was a nice “announceable” on the eve of the crucial Eden-Monaro by-election and gave welcome media coverage to EOS.

EOS was in the headlines last year for a very different reason: it supplies the same weapon systems to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two countries that are waging war in Yemen, and in the process creating the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, including the mass starvation of children.

The company has justified its exports (it exports 90-95% of its weapons systems) saying,

“Foreign sales significantly reduce the cost of development, acquisition and support for Australia for defence technology. This is the principal reason why Australian industry participates in international sales.”

EOS has denied its weapons are being used in Yemen by the Saudis and UAE. But that is not the point. The point is that this is a company willing to secure its financial future by doing business with countries the UN has said are known to be engaged in gross violations of human rights and likely also war crimes.

Handy little earner

But back to the byelection. In January, the government spent $50 million on 82 EOS remote weapons systems destined for the Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles. These numbers suggest that yesterday’s announcement of 251 more systems could cost in the vicinity of $150 million. A handy earner for a local weapons producer.

Following on from the government’s big defence announcement on Wednesday, at Thursday’s media event at EOS the government emphasised the defence industry jobs the contract would create for local industry. EOS has a production facility in Queanbeyan, and another nearby in Hume in the ACT.

The Prime Minister was at the media event, as was Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price, head government arms buyer Tony Fraser and Liberal candidate Dr Fiona Kotvojs.

Weapons order brought forward

The chief executive of EOS, Ben Greene, was remarkably frank about the suddenness with which the government had brought forward the purchase. He referred to the order having been on the cards “at a later period” but then said the government had “very … intelligently, others would say kindly, and others would say far-sighted, brought forward” the purchase.

Still others might call it pork-barrelling on the eve of a crucial by-election — as we’ve seen in previous elections.  But Dr Greene was full of praise, thanking the Government for a very welcome and much-needed element of support for his company.

And it probably didn’t hurt EOS’s lobbying capacity to have former Army Chief Peter Leahy and former Air Force Chief Geoff Brown on its board … along with former Labor senator Kate Lundy.

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For the last 10 years, Michelle has been involved in research and campaigning for various organisations seeking to reduce warfare and militarism. An abiding interest is the prevention of corruption via increased transparency and accountability. She is currently researching 'revolving door' links between government/military and the weapons industry.

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