Members of various organisations including Amnesty International, Uniting Church in Australia, Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Australia (ICAN )have attended a meeting to stop the Turnbull government’s plan to increase arms exports by $20 billion over the course of a decade.
The Department of Defence claims the strategy will “contribute to the growth of Australian businesses, supporting job creation and economic prosperity for Australia”, in addition to strengthening Australia’s military and improving relationships with allies.
However, Dave Sweeny, co-founder of Nobel Peace Prize winner ICAN and campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation, fears it could escalate Australia’s involvement in international conflict.
“It’s a really dangerous thing. I think it’s really not consistent with the value set that I think most Australians hold, which is that defence should be defence, the preparedness to look after yourself but not to impose threat or fear or hurt onto others. The arms trade is ultimately a business model that’s based around causing harm and hurt and distress and death.”
The meeting took place in the Victorian Trades Hall on April 26 and was led by Sydneysider Ann-Therese King, who travelled to Melbourne to prevent the issue from only being discussed in one part of the country. The groups raised the issue of government priorities in spending. President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) and member of ICAN Margaret Beavis believes the money should be spent elsewhere.
“There’s good evidence showing that for an equal amount spent you get many more jobs in health, in education and also renewable energy.”
She came to this conclusion after reading a research paper by the Political Economy Research Institute on whether $1 billion spent by the United States on domestic policy would create more and higher-paying jobs than if that same amount of money was spent on the military.
A Change.org petition with 264 signatures has been set up by Heather Porter-Carnegie, a Labor party member who attended the meeting. The Labor Party is not officially against the idea of an increase in arms exports but has questioned whether the Turnbull government is able to turn Australia into a strong exporter.
The campaign for stopping these exports was not given an official name during the meeting. The initial name for the meeting was ‘No Blood Money’ but Diana Sayed of Amnesty International suggested that a less abrasive and more positive name be used.
The attendees debated over the campaign’s goals as well as the most effective approach to language, with the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network’s (IPAN) Shirley Winton suggesting that they place lobby pressure on the Liberal government but King preferring to focus on raising awareness. Winton also wanted to frame the issue in terms of Australia’s relationship with the United States but Sweeney argued that highlighting the deaths caused by war would be more successful.
Those present at the meeting plan to attend the Global Campaign on Military Spending action in Canberra on May 8, which is the day the 2018-2019 federal budget will be released. They also plan to attempt to change the Labor Party’s position on the issue.