Australian government ramps up anti-China campaign, spends billions on weaponry
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, seen here with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Sept. 20, 2019, has announced a massive new weapons spending program that will largely benefit U.S. armaments manufacturers. | Susan Walsh / AP

SYDNEY—In announcing $270 billion ($189 billion USD) for the military on July 1, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had the task of convincing Australians that the exorbitant spending was necessary. He turned to fear as his chief weapon, evoking the rise of Nazism and World War II and describing the post-pandemic world as “poorer, more dangerous, and more disorderly.”

Morrison said: “We have not seen the conflation of global economic and strategic uncertainty now being experienced here in Australia in our region since the existential threat we faced when the global and regional order collapsed in the 1930s and 1940s.”

The implication that China is like Nazi Germany, hell-bent on conquests and control, is dangerous. When Morrison made his announcement, he carefully prepared the scene with military figures and civilian supporters, such as Peter Jennings from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a group funded by both the Australian and U.S. governments as well as huge U.S. arms manufacturing companies, which are the only ones who will profit from this military spending splurge.

It is becoming clearer why the Australian government has been conducting a scare campaign about China and Chinese cyber warfare. Clearly it is intended to build up a fear of China which will allow Australians to acquiesce in the exorbitant spending proposed.

Tensions in the Indo-Pacific region are being exacerbated by the actions of the Morrison government in partnership with the U.S. They are being used to rush Australians into accepting the purchase of destabilizing and unnecessary weaponry.

Morrison has deliberately ignored the positive role of China in the COVID-19 crisis. This socialist country has aided many millions with free medical equipment. It offered assistance to the state of New York, Italy, and many developing countries, including those suffering from U.S. sanctions such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran.

Provoking an arms race

Australia is embarking on the 21st century version of a Cold War weapons build-up, emphasizing submarines and other naval assets, intelligence, satellites, and long-range missiles for use beyond Australian shores.

“The Indo-Pacific is where we live,” Morrison said, “and we want an open, sovereign Indo-Pacific, free from coercion and hegemony.”

The prime minister is right. We have lived under the hegemony of a foreign power for decades—that of the U.S. One of our prime ministers, Gough Whitlam, was even evicted from his post by U.S. action. If you do not do as the U.S. says, you will suffer a coup. Both the Liberal and Labor Parties know their limit.

“The strategic competition between China and the United States means that there’s a lot of tension in the cord and a lot of risk of miscalculation,” Morrison told television’s Channel Seven. Provoking an arms race and taking an aggressive stance can only make this situation worse.

And there are plenty of other priorities on which $270 billion would be much better spent.

Public housing

In The Saturday Paper Mike Seccombe wrote :

“… the government could have done what a wide range of organizations—the Housing Industry Association, Master Builders Australia, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining, and Energy Union, welfare groups, and some progressive think tanks—have advocated, and put the money towards building up Australia’s depleted and degraded stock of public housing.“

Instead, the government listened to its U.S. arms corporation mates and the ASPI. The ASPI has campaigned for Australia’s military spending to be raised from nearly 2% of GDP to 3.6%.

Australia has 116,000 homeless people each night. There is a waiting list of 150,000 people for public housing. Many people on the waiting list are heads of families, which means the need for public housing is even greater.

Instead of wasting $270 billion on death and destruction, the federal government should rescind last week’s exorbitant military announcement and start cutting military spending back to 1% of GDP.

The money allocated to war preparations should be spent instead to fund a public housing boom which would meet the policy goals of stimulating the economy, providing jobs, and building permanent homes for the vulnerable.

Real security

Security is often interpreted to mean military security. However, Australia’s true security would be enhanced by attention to economic recovery, social cohesion, and humanitarian issues.

Resources committed to developing the military mean less money for employment programs and the health, education, and housing needs of Australians and our neighbors.

If the Morrison government is planning on a weapons-led economic recovery, they are willfully blind to the realities. The avoidance of deep recession will require massive stimulus spending on people and projects, not weapons.

A McKinsey report in 2010 found Australia’s military spending was among the least efficient in the world. In a list of 33 major countries, we tied with the United States for worst at getting value for our defense dollar.

In the second half of March, unemployment jumped a staggering 1.4 million to 2.4 million (16.8 %) and under-employment increased 374,000 to 1.52 million (10.6%).

But spending on the military rather than civilian areas of the economy results in a net loss of jobs. This is because military spending is less effective at creating jobs than virtually any other form of government activity.

U.S. research reveals that, for example, a billion dollars spent for military purposes creates one and one-half times fewer jobs than spending on clean energy production and two and one-half times fewer jobs than spending on education.

Environment

Australia’s planned $270 billion buying-spree of sophisticated weaponry is a disaster for many reasons. High on the list is the ramping up of the negative effects of militarism on the environment. Military spending amounts to a war on the environment.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The environment has long been a silent casualty of war and armed conflict. From the contamination of land and the destruction of forests to the plunder of natural resources and the collapse of management systems, the environmental consequences of war are often widespread and devastating.”

Australia has one of the highest per capita emissions of carbon dioxide in the world, with 0.3% of the world’s population releasing 1.07% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Emissions per capita for Australia are still well above the OECD and developed world average.

The federal budget tells a clear story of Australia’s misplaced priorities. The money that Australia spends on environmental protection is $3.4 billion. The money spent on the military is $42.2 billion.

The situation with climate change is at a critical stage. Current studies show that Earth’s temperature is one degree centigrade above pre-industrial levels and clearly on the way to 1.5 degrees within ten years. If nothing changes to business as usual, we face the possible extinction of humanity.

Change the system

Spending $270 billion on war preparations will not make us safer, but it will make economic recovery even more difficult.

Morrison and his capitalist mates don’t really care. There are profits to be made from armaments production and from coercing influence and trade in the region.

Australia continues to spend on the military even in the depth of the COVID-19-induced economic crisis. New contracts have been signed, and Australian ships are joining war games in the South China Sea and RIMPAC, the giant U.S.-organized international naval exercises off the coast of Hawaii.

It’s time to divert money from these wasteful and unnecessary events to the needs of the Australian people. It’s time to say out loud that poverty kills, neoliberalism kills. It’s time to throw capitalism out and to build an alternative just, democratic, people- and environment-centered system.

We need socialism to save our lives.

This is a slightly edited version of an article which originally appeared in The Guardian (Australia).


CONTRIBUTOR

Denis Doherty
Denis Doherty

Denis Doherty was National Organiser of the Communist Party of Australia and national coordinator of the Anti Bases Campaign Coalition.

Hannah Middleton
Hannah Middleton

Dr. Hannah Middleton is a longtime peace and justice activist, a leader in the Australian Communist Party, and the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition (AABCC).

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