The release of the Defence White Paper in February reveals the Malcolm Turnbull government sees engaging in a regional “arms race” and securing its borders as far higher priorities than guaranteeing our healthcare system, quality public education, housing and welfare entitlements.
While this thinking is nothing new and continues the trend of successive governments — both Coalition and Labor — the Turnbull government added an extra twist, in quarantining the defence budget so that it is protected from cuts if revenue decreases.
The White Paper outlines that over the next 10 years, $30 billion in additional funding will be provided to defence, bringing its overall budget to about $195 billion over that period. The defence budget will grow to 2% of GDP by 2020-21, based on current projections.
According to media reports, the RAAF will build two fleets of drones and bring a fleet of 75 Joint Strike Fighters online — if they are ever deemed safe to fly. The Army will buy armed drones, new transport vehicles, helicopters and a long-range rocket system.
By comparison, if the 2015 federal budget proposals on higher education spending had been passed, spending on higher education as a proportion of GDP would have fallen to 0.48% in 2018 — a quarter of defence spending.
Part of the Defence White Paper is a budget of $50 billion in contracts for 12 new submarines, plus the additional funds needed for maintenance over the next decade. It is a bonanza for weapons manufacturers.
I'm sure the $50 billion Medicare, aged care and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme payment system, which are now on the table to be outsourced to the private sector, will provide great savings to boost the effort to build Turnbull's submarine fleet.
On the other hand there is $44 billion in annual aged pension payments that the government and employers have been eyeing off. That money would go a long way towards keeping desperate refugees from our shores with the addition of drones to our border defence capability!
The build up of the military is connected with the government's desire to flex its muscle in the Asia Pacific and to defend our regional economic interests. But the Defence White Paper also outlines the government's plan to “deepen its partnership with the United States”: from enhancing its “already high levels of military integration and interoperability and cooperation in intelligence sharing” to “continuing the implementation of the United States Force Posture Initiatives in northern Australia and participating in United States-led operations”. This increases the likelihood that Australia will be drawn into more illegal wars and occupations.
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