On Q&A last night, Christopher Pyne and Anthony Albanese were asked, if we must “live within our means”, why is defence spending quarantined from the cuts that every other sector is experiencing?
The smiling joking duo went immediately into their harmonised response. They are on a “unity ticket” when it comes to national security. Investment in defence materiel will provide “jobs and growth” and promote “innovation and technology.”
Albanese added that the defence forces play a vital role in dealing with natural disasters like floods and bushfires.
There is some truth in what they say – and a whole lot of crap!
There was a time when they were on a “unity ticket” for education funding, but that is now derided as an unaffordable pie-in-the-sky promise despite the overwhelming evidence showing the economic and social benefits of a healthy, well-educated population and skilled workforce.
Yet the $195 billion (and counting) to be spent on defence materiel over the next decade is “an affordable and balanced plan.”
There was a time when scientists at the CSIRO and researchers at our universities were regarded as crucial to our push for innovation and new technology. They were the ones protecting us from climate change, making breakthroughs in health, developing communications and new industries like renewable energy. They were the ones working out how to feed and fuel future generations.
Now, if they want funding, they better have a military application for their research or find entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who are interested in making a quick fortune from commercialising their discoveries.
We are not equipping our armed forces to help rebuild after natural disasters. We are putting them on a war time footing by hugely increasing their strike force capability. The following figures come from the 2016 Integrated Investment Program which shows some of the proposed capital expenditure out to 2035:
Maritime & Anti-Submarine Warfare >$151.35 billion
Strike & Air Combat $55.66 billion
Land Combat & Amphibious Warfare $76.38 billion
Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, Electronic Warfare, Space & Cyber $26.794 billion
Key Enablers $43.16 billion
Air & Sea Lift $16.78 billion
Some of the big ticket items include:
Future Submarine Program – Evaluation, Design & Construction (>$50bn)
Future Submarine Program–Weapons & Systems ($5bn-$6bn)
Future Frigate Program – Evaluation, Design & Construction (>$30bn)
Future Frigate Program–Weapons ($3bn-$4bn)
Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyer (3 ships) ($9.1bn)
Maritime Anti-Ship Missiles & Deployable Land-based Capability ($4bn-$5bn)
Destroyer Program–Combat System ($4bn-$5bn)
Offshore Patrol Vessel – Evaluation, Design & Construction ($3bn-$4bn)
Lead-in Fighter Training System ($4bn-$5bn)
Joint Strike Fighter Acquisition Stage One (72 aircraft)($15.3bn)
Air Combat Capability Air-to-Air Weapons & Countermeasures ($3bn-$4bn)
Air Combat Capability – Fourth Squadron ($6bn-$7bn)
Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Replacement ($5bn to $6bn)
Armoured Vehicles–Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle ($4bn-$5bn)
Armoured Vehicles–Infantry Fighting Vehicle ($10bn -$15bn)
While a few thousand ship builders might keep their jobs, and some Australian steel might be used, these are not nation building investments and the vast majority of these hundreds of billions in expenditure will go to foreign arms manufacturers.
It would have cost a lot less to support the car industry and provide employment for tens, or even hundreds of thousands of people in Australia.
Imagine how many people would be employed if we chose, instead, to invest in FttP NBN and building a high speed rail line from Melbourne to Brisbane. Think of the productivity improvements that these two projects would provide.
Imagine the benefits if we invested just a fraction of this money in health, education and affordable housing and lifting people out of poverty.
Imagine being able to give security to those people who rely on a pension and hope to those people who want to work.
Imagine if we actually helped rebuild countries instead of bombing them, if we helped provide fresh water, if we built schools and hospitals instead of submarines and fighter jets.
We are building 12 subs, China has 70. At the same time we are investing heavily in anti-submarine attack vessels which I am sure other people have too. The vast majority of our military hardware is only used for war games including with China who, it is to be remembered, now own our northernmost port.
The Darwin deal will provide Chinese shipping and naval vessels with facilitated access to Australia, the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, as well as to Indonesia and PNG over the coming century.
Geoff Wade wrote of his concerns on the Drum.
Those who believe that Chinese economic investment abroad is unconnected with PRC strategic aspirations need only look at the sorts of major infrastructure investments that Chinese firms have made in Australia – China Merchants’ century-long lease of the port of Newcastle (proximate to RAAF Base Williamtown), Landbridge’s century-long lease of the port of Darwin (proximate to RAAF Base Darwin, HMAS Coonawarra and to Larrakeyah Barracks), the new links between Qinzhou and the port of Townsville (proximate to RAAF Base Townsville), and a China-connected firm buying the plot of land next to ASIO headquarters in Canberra.
In addition, we have SOE State Grid controlling Australian energy networks and hoping to gain control of NSW electricity network assets which also carry top-secret ADF communications. Next on the PRC acquisition list will likely be the port of Fremantle (proximate to RAAF Base Pearce and HMAS Stirling). China’s accessing of CYBINT, SIGINT and HUMINT intelligence through these new access points would present ongoing security concerns for Australia.
It seems our trade and investment negotiators have different goals to our defence forces.
And as one hand works against the other, our society pays the price to make foreign arms manufacturers rub their hands in glee.
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