By Ariel Couchman
MELBOURNE — The Campaign Against Militarism is preparing protests against the Australian International Defence and Equipment Exhibition (AIDEX), scheduled for November.
CAM argues that the exhibition is not in the best interests of either the economy or the defence of Australia. It hopes to prevent the exhibition going ahead, and is planning a national protest in November. Leading up to this will be public meetings, actions at military industry offices, regional actions and much more.
The exhibition will target the Asia-Pacific region, viewed as a growth area for arms sales. On the promise of generous incentives from the government, arms dealers will attempt to secure contracts and establish contacts to win Australian-based arms manufacturers a larger slice of world markets.
The first AIDEX exhibition, held in 1989, was regarded as a great success, and was responsible for a dramatic rise in Australian armaments exports.
All individuals and groups are invited to join CAM or to take up the issue themselves. Already, unions, human rights organisations and antiwar groups have addressed the issue. In February, the Victorian Trades Hall Council passed a motion exposing the exhibition.
Unfortunately, some unions, in particular the metalworkers and the ironworkers, have supported development of the arms industry, arguing that it provides jobs and leads to the development of skills and technology that might then be transferred into non-military areas.
At least part of the inspiration for the arms push is the glittering example of the military-industrial complex in the USA. There, the armaments industry is a huge conduit for government subsidies to private industry, at ruinous cost to the overall health of the US economy.
At most, an Australian military industry would provide only short-term economic benefits. There would be some jobs, such as those created by the frigate contracts, and some technological upgrading. But in recent years the workforce in traditional defence-related industries has been slashed, awards have been eroded and unions have been savagely attacked.
Workers in New Zealand had no illusions about the future of military-based industry when they vocally opposed John Halfpenny's attempts to sell the frigate project in New Zealand in 1989. Workers said it was just a short-term fix that wouldn't provide them with long-term job security or technological benefits.
Nevertheless, it seems the ACTU accepts the government's view of military industry as an economic saviour.
The other main problem with the arms industry is that it will overwhelmingly be supplying repressive governments and right-wing region. It will make the Pacific region more dangerous and less stable.
As was made so painfully clear in the Gulf War, arms dealers will peddle their wares wherever there's a profit to be made, regardless of the cost to the peoples of the region.
The arms industry will also drive Australia towards a more aggressive international policy. To ensure existing contracts and win new ones, the industry will be constantly driven to develop new weapons, and the Australian government will be under constant pressure to promote them by adding them to the national arsenal, which would be the industry's showcase.
Naturally, a bigger military machine is not the best way to win the trust and confidence of our neighbours.
For more information on AIDEX, contact CAM on (03) 419 5937.