The gov­ern­ment’s de­sire to see Aus­tralia be­come a weapons pow­er­house has brought howls of protest from hu­man­i­tar­ian groups, and eerie si­lence from the Op­po­si­tion.

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page - By Alex McKin­non.

This week Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull an­nounced the “De­fence Ex­port Strat­egy”, an ini­tia­tive de­signed to make Aus­tralia one of the world’s 10 largest weapons ex­porters within a decade.

“A strong, ex­port­ing de­fence in­dus­try in Aus­tralia will pro­vide greater cer­tainty of in­vest­ment, sup­port high­end man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs and sup­port the ca­pa­bil­ity of the Aus­tralian De­fence Force,” he said in a joint state­ment with De­fence Min­is­ter Marise Payne and De­fence In­dus­try Min­is­ter Christo­pher Pyne.

The pro­posal was met with hor­ror from in­ter­na­tional char­i­ties, aid groups and the Greens, but La­bor was no­tably quiet in the fol­low­ing days. The best the Op­po­si­tion’s de­fence spokesman, Richard Mar­les, could do was at­tack the Coali­tion’s record of with­draw­ing sup­port from the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor. “We’ve long been strong sup­port­ers of an Aus­tralian de­fence in­dus­try that has, at its heart, the ca­pac­ity to ex­port,” he said.

La­bor’s re­luc­tance to make arms ex­ports a po­lit­i­cal is­sue may ex­plain why the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to ex­pand the do­mes­tic ar­ma­ments in­dus­try have largely flown un­der the radar. The value of mil­i­tary ex­ports per­mits granted by the gov­ern­ment has in­creased by an av­er­age of 44 per cent ev­ery year for the past three years. Since tak­ing on the de­fence in­dus­try port­fo­lio in July 2016, Pyne has been evan­gel­i­cal in his ef­forts to sell Aus­tralian ar­ma­ments around the world, speak­ing can­didly of his de­sire to “send a lot more weapons over­seas”.

While the “De­fence Ex­port Strat­egy” in­cludes fund­ing for a new Aus­tralian de­fence ex­port ad­vo­cate po­si­tion, Pyne’s ea­ger­ness to be­come a glo­ri­fied arms dealer has al­ready given us a glimpse of what we can ex­pect once the strat­egy is up and run­ning. In Septem­ber last year, Pyne quite lit­er­ally is­sued a “call to arms”, urg­ing Aus­tralian com­pa­nies to help global weapons con­glom­er­ate Raytheon build ar­moured truck-mounted missile launch­ers for the Aus­tralian Army.

The launch­ers will likely be mounted on the Aus­tralian-built Hawkei and Bush­mas­ter ar­moured pa­trol ve­hi­cles, which have al­ready at­tracted buy­ers from Bri­tain, the Nether­lands, Poland and Ja­pan. Pre­sum­ably, global de­mand for Hawkeis and Bush­mas­ters will in­crease once buy­ers can fire mis­siles from them.

The amount of money the gov­ern­ment is putting be­hind the “De­fence Ex­port Strat­egy” shows how ea­ger it is to repli­cate the suc­cess of the Bush­mas­ter and Hawkei on a larger scale. One of the strat­egy’s main com­po­nents is the $3.8 bil­lion de­fence ex­port fa­cil­ity, de­signed to help do­mes­tic de­fence sup­pli­ers se­cure and ful­fil large over­seas con­tracts by fi­nanc­ing start-up costs busi­nesses can­not cover them­selves.

The new money rep­re­sents a boon to the in­dus­try, which only ex­ported

$127 mil­lion worth of ar­ma­ments in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute.

De­spite its self-pro­claimed suc­cess help­ing small drone man­u­fac­tur­ers and weapons bay de­vel­op­ers take on large or­ders, the Ex­port Fi­nance and In­sur­ance Cor­po­ra­tion (EFIC) is used to deal­ing with far smaller fig­ures when it comes to de­fence fund­ing. In the 2016-17 fi­nan­cial year, it ap­proved just seven de­fencere­lated con­tracts worth $13.2 mil­lion.

The cor­po­ra­tion’s vastly ex­panded de­fence bud­get will be un­der­writ­ten by the Na­tional In­ter­est Ac­count (NIA), a fund giv­ing the trade min­is­ter li­cence to green light any fund­ing deemed “in the na­tional in­ter­est”. Fund­ing ar­range­ments granted un­der the ac­count bind the gov­ern­ment to re­im­burse the EFIC if it loses money on the deal.

The NIA has tra­di­tion­ally been used to pro­vide for­eign aid to na­tions with which Aus­tralia wants closer ties, but gov­ern­ments have also found it use­ful as a source of easy cash for po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. In 2009, then trade min­is­ter Si­mon Crean ap­proved a $200 mil­lion NIA loan to Gen­eral Mo­tors, to pre­serve Holden man­u­fac­tur­ing in South Aus­tralia, as well as a $US400 mil­lion loan to Oil Search and San­tos to help con­struct a gas plant in Pa­pua New Guinea. Un­der the “De­fence Ex­port Strat­egy”, lo­cal arms man­u­fac­tur­ers now have a near-guar­an­teed source of fi­nance.

While Pyne has of­fered as­sur­ances that Aus­tralia will sell weaponry only to “ap­pro­pri­ate coun­tries and ap­pro­pri­ate places”, the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment has al­ready ap­proved a num­ber of highly ques­tion­able sales to par­ties in the on­go­ing Ye­men civil war, and is ac­tively seek­ing more.

In Fe­bru­ary 2017, Pyne spoke at the In­ter­na­tional De­fence Ex­hi­bi­tion in Abu Dhabi, one of the largest arms deal­ing con­fer­ences in the world. Pyne also met with Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and Ho­maid Al Shem­mari, the chair of the Emi­rates De­fence In­dus­tries Com­pany, to “fur­ther build our in­ter­ac­tion in the field of de­fence in­dus­try, in­clud­ing en­hanced Aus­tralian de­fence ex­ports”.

Na­tions that have sold weaponry and re­lated equip­ment to the UAE in the past have found their wares used in un­ap­peal­ing ways as the na­tion ex­pands its foot­print in Ye­men. Nor­way halted arms sales to the UAE in Jan­uary, while Fin­land is set to fol­low suit af­ter footage sur­faced show­ing the UAE was us­ing Fin­nish-made ar­moured ve­hi­cles in­side Ye­men. In Oc­to­ber 2016, the Swift, a

UAE mil­i­tary-char­tered HSV-2 lo­gis­tics cata­ma­ran built by Tas­ma­nian ferry builder In­cat, was se­verely dam­aged in a rocket at­tack by Houthi fighters near the western port city of Mokha.

As is of­ten the case, the ex­tent of the Swift’s in­volve­ment in UAE mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity de­pends on who you ask. The

UAE for­eign min­istry stated the ship was an un­armed civil­ian ves­sel “car­ry­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, wounded Ye­me­nis and pas­sen­gers”. The Houthis, how­ever, claimed the Swift was “an Emi­rati war­ship” pre­vi­ously used to ferry fighters from Eritrea. The United Na­tions has ex­pressed doubt that the Swift was on a hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion. The Swift was orig­i­nally built in 2003 for the United States Navy, which pri­mar­ily used it for hu­man­i­tar­ian relief as­sign­ments.

In any event, the at­tack high­lighted why other coun­tries have be­come in­creas­ingly wary of sell­ing arms matériel in such a volatile re­gion. In Novem­ber, the Euro­pean Union rec­om­mended an arms em­bargo against Saudi Ara­bia due to al­le­ga­tions of war crimes in Ye­men and do­mes­tic hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions. In Au­gust

2017, Cana­dian For­eign Af­fairs

Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into news re­ports show­ing Cana­dian-made mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles be­ing used in a gov­ern­ment siege of the south­ern Saudi city of Awamiyah.

The prospect of a sim­i­lar scan­dal hap­pen­ing here has seem­ingly done lit­tle to dis­suade the gov­ern­ment. In De­cem­ber 2016, Pyne led a del­e­ga­tion of Aus­tralian de­fence com­pa­nies to Riyadh, where they met with se­nior mem­bers of the Saudi regime. Three months later, Fair­fax re­ported that sev­eral Aus­tralian com­pa­nies had se­cured con­tracts to sup­ply mil­i­tary equip­ment to the Saudi gov­ern­ment. Cit­ing com­mer­cial-in­con­fi­dence re­stric­tions, Pyne has re­fused to de­tail which com­pa­nies had won the con­tracts, how much they were worth, or what the com­pa­nies would be ex­port­ing.

While Pyne would not re­veal which com­pa­nies ac­com­pa­nied him on the Riyadh trip, Austal, a ship­build­ing com­pany and Aus­tralia’s largest de­fence ex­porter, con­firmed it had rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the del­e­ga­tion. While it is best known re­cently for sup­ply­ing


com­bat and trans­port ships to the US Navy, in­clud­ing USS Gabrielle Gif­fords, Austal has been ag­i­tat­ing for Saudi money for some time.

In June 2015, then chief ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Bellamy voiced his de­sire to cap­i­talise on the Royal Saudi Naval Force’s plans to add more war­ships to its eastern fleet, say­ing “there’s a great op­por­tu­nity for Aus­tralia to build those ships in con­junc­tion with the Saudi Ara­bian gov­ern­ment”.

Austal has been happy to sell to re­pres­sive regimes in the past. In Au­gust 2015, then prime min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott toured Austal’s Western Aus­tralian ship­yard, where Bellamy showed off the high-speed sup­port ships the com­pany was build­ing for the Royal Navy of Oman. While Oman has de­clared its neu­tral­ity in the Ye­men con­flict, the coun­try has a dis­mal hu­man rights record and rou­tinely ha­rasses and im­pris­ons pro-democ­racy ac­tivists, crit­ics of the coun­try’s ab­so­lute monarch, Sul­tan Qa­boos bin Said al Said, and ho­mo­sex­ual men.

That cav­a­lier at­ti­tude to sell­ing weaponry in the Gulf may have al­ready had fright­en­ing con­se­quences. In 2005, the com­pany built 10 armed pa­trol boats for the Ye­men Min­istry of De­fence, which is tak­ing part in a coali­tion block­ade of the coun­try’s west that has trig­gered a se­vere hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. United Na­tions lead­ers have warned that “mil­lions of chil­dren, women and men risk mass hunger, dis­ease and death” un­less the block­ade is lifted.

Austal did not an­swer ques­tions from The Sat­ur­day Pa­per ask­ing if it has con­firmed that its pa­trol boats have not been in­volved in the block­ade. In a state­ment fol­low­ing the gov­ern­ment’s an­nounce­ment, the com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, David Sin­gle­ton, said Austal was “de­lighted” with the “De­fence Ex­port Strat­egy”. On this, there is no rea­son for

• doubt.

Min­is­ter for De­fence In­dus­try Christo­pher Pyne in a Hawkei ar­moured pa­trol ve­hi­cle.

ALEX McKIN­NON is Schwartz Me­dia’s morn­ing ed­i­tor, and a for­mer ed­i­tor of Jun­kee.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.