As we brace for the Coalition government's first budget — with its foreshadowed cuts to Medicare, education, welfare and public service jobs — the salt in these wounds was Prime Minister Tony Abbott's announcement that his government plans to buy 58 F35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter war planes for $12.5 billion.
In 2009, the Kevin Rudd government approved spending $3.2 billion for 14 F35s and foreshadowed buying “not fewer than 72” F35s. So Abbott's latest purchase is nothing more than what Labor planned to do had it remained in government.
Think about how this money could be better spent.
For the price of just one F35, the government could reverse its $150 million cut to CSIRO, its $9 million cut to Aboriginal legal services, its $15 million cut to the Flinders Medical Centre natal unit, its $20 million cut to the Latrobe Valley Clean Energy Employment Hub, its $260,000 cut to payments to children of war veterans, $6.2 million for a year's funding for the Climate Change Authority (which Abbott would like to chop), and its $5 million cut to planning costs for the Perth airport rail link.
All this could be funded instead of the $210 million spent on just one F35.
But the actual price of an F35 is a total unknown, as a ABC’s Four Corners program revealed last year: “In reality, cost and delivery have blown out dramatically and credible experts believe the plane will never do what its makers promised.
“The JSF is the biggest weapons purchase in our history and taxpayers might well end up paying $35 billion for a fleet of these so-called stealth fighters.”
Serious concerns about spiralling costs and design faults have been voiced by its chief customers — the governments of the US, Canada and Denmark — the company that is still developing the F35, Lockheed Martin, reported a 23% increase for its first quarter profits this year.
The world's biggest arms contractor's $45.4 billion in sales last year were down 3.9% from the previous year, but its profit rose by 8.6% to about $3 billion for the year as it cut costs, including shedding 4000 jobs.
This is a company that has made its profits from dealing in weapons at the public expense and its biggest public-funded cash cow today is the F35 program. Its total take from the US government for the F35 program alone is estimated to exceed US$1 trillion.
But that's not what Lockheed's lobbyists focus on. They focus on the power of the F35 to “dominate the skies” and the jobs it supposedly creates — even if they have been caught out serially lying on that score.
In his book on Lockheed Martin, Prophets of War, William Hartung warned: “When an arms company starts bragging about how many jobs their pet project creates, hold onto your wallet. It often means that they want billions of dollars worth of your tax money for a weapon that costs too much, does too little, and may not have been needed in the first place.”
The F35 is the expensive, and literally priceless, killing machine that keeps on giving for Lockheed Martin. When budget day comes remember which political parties wasted public money boosting the profits of the world's biggest arms contractor.
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