Mungo MacCallum: Turnbull Government merchants of death

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[In allocating $3.8 billion for weapons, Turnbull's] attitude appears to be the rationale of every drug dealer, every provider of pornography — if I don’t do it, someone else will.'

~ Mungo MacCallum

THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT HAS, in recent years, become debased — opportunist, secretive, poll-driven, fixated on short-term political gain and unwilling to engage in serious issues when (as is always) they interfere with its internal wranglings.

It has been depressing and demoralising, and the public has responded by branding our parliamentarians a bunch of untrustworthy go-getters, obsessed with their own well-being rather than the public good. 

Unfair, perhaps — there are many politicians who (initially at least) seek office for the right reasons, to enhance the national interest and indulge in honest debate about increasingly complex issues, attempting to involve the voters as partners rather than mere election fodder. There has been, for many of us at least, the hope and belief that the lucky country could again become what it once was — a forthright member of the world community, a vanguard for worthwhile change and reform.

But after last week it will be hard to maintain that sanguine proposition — we have struck a new nadir, a depth of greed and amorality that is unlikely to be beaten. Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to allocate $3.8 billion (that’s $3,800,000,000 in real money) to promote the export of killing machines is the end of the road.

Since the conclusion of the Second World War, if not before, Australia has generally been seen as a peacemaker — not a passive advocate of neutrality but an active participant in the worldwide movement for ending the arms race in a step to preventing, or at least mitigating, war and its causes.

We have made our mistakes, most notably the disaster in Vietnam. But after that, our interventions in conflicts, although almost invariably ill-advised, have been more in the nature of holding operations than all-out assaults. With all respect to our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, they were not about belligerence but defence against fanatical and unconscionable aggression.

And in the meantime, we have taken part in many genuine peacekeeping operations: Timor and the Solomons are among the most impressive but there have been others less publicised — Cyprus, to name but one. And perhaps more importantly, Australia has been a significant, and at times a leading, player in the international campaign for disarmament.

Australians have been involved in working to end nuclear proliferation, in the elimination of chemical weapons, in the abolition of landmines. There have been times when we have been more zealous than others, but our default position has been on the side of peace — the side of the angels.

And it is this history that Turnbull has abandoned in what can only be seen as the cynical betrayal of our (and we had thought his own) values and ideals in the desperate search for a few bucks. His attitude appears to be the rationale of every drug dealer, every provider of pornography — if I don’t do it, someone else will, so why should Australia not aspire to become one of the top ten worldwide merchants of death?

And of course, we (unlike every other merchant) will take stringent precautions to ensure that our guns, bombs, tanks and whatever instruments of slaughter that our scientists can devise, will never be used illegally and unethically. The latter stricture may be seen as a contradiction in terms, but in fact, it hardly matters: the obvious fact is that once we hand the arsenals over we lose all effective control of them.

Turnbull’s warriors have already signalled their willingness – eagerness, indeed – to flog the stuff to just about anyone who will pay for it. Only a few weeks ago our ebullient Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne was spruiking the sale of Australian weapons to Saudi Arabia — those wonderful folk who brought us 9/11 and are now committing war crimes in Yemen before moving on to subdue their own dissenting citizens by any means they deem necessary.

But of course, the Saudis are considered our allies – well sort of, they are the allies of our great and powerful friend, so near enough is good enough – and thus they are, by definition, worthy recipients of any horrors we can offer them – if, of course, the price is right. And it needs not be added (but will be interminably among the government’s talking points) that there will be jobs involved – well, there may be a few, and there would want to be at the cost of $3.8 billion.

In fact, we can confidently predict just 3,800 jobs, eventually. We know that figure because the price of government assistance (read: taxpayer handouts) to defence procurement works out at a cool one million for every new worker employed.

But wait, there’s more — our killing machines will not only secure our own base for keeping up a steady supply of our own weapons (most of which are being licensed to foreigners anyway, and thus providing minimal profits to Australia) but revive our ailing manufacturing industry, the one successive governments have run into the ground. The once thriving automobile sector could have been saved by a fraction of the cost to be lavished on the warmongers but that would have been economic irrationalism – picking winners – and we couldn’t have that.

Fortunately (and the only conceivable saving grace of the moral turpitude into which Turnbull is seeking to immerse us), we probably won’t have to: the experts in the field assure us that the already established merchants of death will effortlessly freeze out such a bumptious upstart in what has become a seriously cut-throat (and that is itself a euphemism) industry.

Let’s face it, they know all about real wars, so a trade war with an uppity neophyte should be a doddle. And if this happens (and frankly it should) Turnbull’s latest thought bubble will be revealed as an utter failure in every sense — not merely unforgivably depraved, but hugely wasteful and simply stupid. What a way to start the new year of rewards for all.

Mungo MacCallum is a veteran journalist who worked for many years in the Canberra Press Gallery. This article was published on 'Pearls and Irritations' and is republished with permission.

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