By Mary Heath
Women around Australia have spent the last nine months planning a national peace action to be held over Easter. It will take place at the Australian Defence Industries (ADI) factory in Benalla, north-eastern Victoria.
The action will be an opportunity for women to voice opposition to Australian militarism and its role in regional and global conflicts, and to draw connections between this and the culture of violence expressed every day through rape, domestic violence, sexism, racism, homophobia and other forms of exploitation and oppression.
We have chosen Benalla for the site of the peace camp because ADI, a government-owned company, is a major part of the government's push to sell more arms to countries in our region — a region which is undergoing the fastest military build-up anywhere on the planet. ADI made front-page news recently when the government gave it the go-ahead to negotiate a $100 million deal to supply rifles to the Indonesian military.
This was only the latest in a series of deals that we should be concerned about. ADI signed contracts to supply rifles to Papua New Guinea and Thailand in 1994 in spite of the likelihood that these weapons will be used against dissenters within those countries, or against Bougainville or Cambodia. These deals were approved in spite of the federal government's policy that export permission should be refused for arms sales to "governments that seriously violate their citizens' rights", and its stated commitment to consider the implications of arms exports given our international human rights obligations and global and regional stability.
ADI's new Benalla factory will replace several factories in and around Melbourne; it will concentrate ammunition production at a single site. The reorganisation of ADI will not, however, result in more jobs; it will reduce the work force very substantially, partly because high technology production is capital- rather than labour-intensive.
The organisers of the camp favour converting the arms industry to the production of items which benefit human beings rather than killing and maiming them. Unions such as the metal workers are already working on conversion projects within the arms industry, with the aim of ensuring genuinely sustainable employment for their members.
The action will be the first national women's peace camp since the Pine Gap protest more than 10 years ago. It will be an exciting event involving a diversity of women. The camp will run from dawn on April 14 to moonrise on April 16.
Preparatory workshops are being organised by women from the Australian Nonviolence Network. They will be held at the Commonground Cooperative, near Seymour (one hour's drive from the camp site) in the week before the action. For more information, call Clare Cole on (03) 889 5848.