Rising up the arms dealers’ top 100 is the wrong priority

29 Jan, 2018

CEOs of Australia’s leading humanitarian agencies have slammed the Australian Government’s new defence export strategy. Speaking on behalf of members of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), CEO Marc Purcell said:

“We should be helping to build peace and stability with our allies not working our way up the arms dealers’ top 100. Australians believe we need less violence and conflict in the world and will be questioning why their tax-dollars are being used to fuel bloodshed.

“Increasing military investment takes us on a trajectory to war, not peace. In war-torn Yemen, 9,000 people have lost their lives, 50,000 have been injured and 18 million need some form of humanitarian assistance. Much of this damage was inflicted using weapons from the world’s biggest arms-exporting countries. The world does not need Australian weapons adding fuel to the fire.

“The Government's strategy is full of stark contradictions. Australia played a major global role in land-mine removal, but now we could be selling new mines for countries to lay. Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has prioritised women’s empowerment in our aid program. Yet increasing the number of arms, increases violence and it is women and girls who fare worst.

“We have cut Australia's aid – which helps reduce conflict – to historically low-levels while defence spending continues to escalate. The $3.8bn loan the Government is putting up for arms manufacturers is the same amount Australia spent on our entire aid program last year. Rather than fuel conflict, Australian aid has helped millions of people get an education, receive better healthcare and has increased peace and security. We need to refocus on reducing the drivers of conflict - helping people with the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity.”

World Vision chief advocate Tim Costello, who has spent the past week in South Sudan talking to heads of government about the need for peace in the strife-torn nation, said the Turnbull Government’s decision to become a major weapons manufacturer sent a shocking message about Australian values.

“Of all the products Australia could export to the world, I can’t think of anything worse than a weapon,” Mr Costello said.

“If we were exporting renewable energy, or breaking new ground in biotechnology, that would be something we could take pride in.

“How can we take pride in a weapon?

“We have a new Australian of the Year, Michelle Simmons, who is hoping to build a quantum computer that could solve problems in minutes, that would otherwise take thousands of years.

“But when the Australian Government looks for a new manufacturing and export opportunity, the best they can do is weapons?

“Millions of people across the world are running from violence and our answer to that is to produce more weapons.

“Whatever money we make from this dirty business will be blood money.”

Commenting CEO of Save the Children Australia, Paul Ronalds said:

“In the wake of the horrific attack on our office in Afghanistan, Save the Children fully understands the diverse security risks the world is facing, such as the rise of terrorism.  But as an organisation working on the front-lines in conflict zones, we also know that an increase in the supply of arms and munitions is not the answer to addressing the greatest threats to security of our times.

“We firmly believe the Australian government should live up to the commitments it has made in its Foreign Policy White Paper to be a nation that is committed to promoting peace and stability in our region and beyond. A commitment to increasing defence exports is not consistent with that ambition. Australia is known as a stable, peaceful, democracy. We should be exporting those values to build a more peaceful world, rather than potentially fuelling insecurity and instability.”

Plan International Australia's Acting CEO, Susanne Legena, said:

“In every war and every conflict on the planet, children get caught in the cross-hairs. There is nothing more reprehensible than the death of an innocent child for power or profit. There is absolutely no way to guarantee that arms exported by Australia will not fall into the hands of evil people who seek to harm children or simply do not care for their safety. Guns do not solve crises, they create them. What children around the world need right now is our compassion and that means greater investment in foreign aid programs that protect and offer a better future. Australia has no business being involved in the international arms trade and must reconsider this proposal for the sake of the world’s most vulnerable children.”

ENDS

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For further information, contact Tim Watkin at [email protected] or on 0401 721 064.