The army's new manual, Fundamentals of Land Warfare, suggests two uses for the organisation: The Army provides expeditionary forces to support Australia's national interests offshore and territorial forces to protect Australian sovereignty.
The manual says, however, that there is no clear or apparent threat to Australian sovereignty. So in this regard the army is of no use.
And what are the national interests offshore that are supported by force of arms? Those where the Australian government can't get agreement from other countries, even after applying diplomatic, economic and other pressures; that is, when the Australian government wants more than a fair deal for itself and those it serves. Such interests are exploitative.
The regularity with which the Australian military has been used offshore shows that exploitative national interests are the norm in Australia's international relations.
In the first and second world wars, Australia secured colonies and a sphere of influence in the Pacific and south-east Asia. Australian expeditionary forces fought against movements for national liberation and unity in Malaya and Korea in the 1940s and 1950s, and in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, and also threatened Indonesia in the early 1960s.
While the term expeditionary forces hasn't been used for most of the 1980s and 1990s, Australian military forces have also been sent to the Persian Gulf, Somalia and Cambodia. Former military personnel and equipment have been supplied to the Papua New Guinea military for the war against Bougainville; and military aid training is given to Indonesia's armed forces in its war against East Timor, and to other repressive regimes in the region.
While working people in Australia struggle to pay for food, somewhere to live, transport, education and health care, they are hardly going to have direct interests overseas.
But big corporations want to own, buy and sell overseas, under the best conditions for them. Rio Tinto, for example, doesn't want the people of Bougainville to be able to determine whether or how they mine there.
So when the army manual claims that Australia is a liberal democracy ... Australia's government exists to serve its citizens, and that the army is subordinate to the authority thus vested in the government, it has omitted a minor detail â that the army, and the government from which it gets its authority, supports the interests of a minority, the rich and powerful. The working-class majority would be better off if the money spent on the army was spent on something useful to them.
The army should be abolished: its main activities do not help the majority, in Australia or anywhere else. The role it claims to play in emergency situations such as floods and natural disasters should be undertaken by more paid emergency services workers.
As for the army's claim to assist the civil authorities in protecting the Australian community from acts of violence or lawlessness, these are the functions of the police. And as trade unionists, peace protesters and other progressive activists can testify, those functions focus on attacking movements for social justice which challenge capitalist exploitation, at home and abroad.