By Dave Sweeney
February 26 ‒ Australians are generally lucky where it comes to the air – we have big skies and safe planes that routinely take off and land and relocate us for holidays, family re-unions and commerce. Our airborne images are red kangaroos, flying doctors and grainy newsreels of early aviators breaking new records in old planes.
It is a world away from many other places experience of the sky as a hostile space that threatens rapid and remote destruction and death. For most of us the closest we get to this all too common global reality is TV news footage of wailing sirens and survivors amid the rubble. But such vision is unlikely to be on the big screen at Avalon airport this week.
Avalon enthusiastically positions itself as Melbourne's 'other' airport. Instead it is a place where not a lot happens. Every day there are roughly equal numbers of Jetstar services and bewildered backpackers wondering how far they are from the MCG (about 60kms). But every second year the wind-swept paddocks between the open range Zoo and the closed range prison complex hosts a truly perverse family feel-good celebration.
The Avalon Airshow is comprised of two concurrent events: the Australian International Aerospace and Defence Exposition is an industry-only trade-fest that runs for three days before merging with the co-located and more public Australian International Airshow for a further three days of 'the ultimate family adventure'.
If websites could get breathless this one would need a respirator: 'Experience the awesome power of military aviation. A high voltage array of combat aircraft takes centre stage with the thrust and grunt of the latest heavy metal. Marvel as jet fighters, strike bombers and heavy lift leviathans are joined by swarms of attack helicopters, from home and abroad, for a series of breathtaking routines and simulated combat manoeuvres.'
It's free for the under-fives, there's plenty of parking and if the planes all get a bit much you can chill to the techno-beats at the Drone Zone Down Under display.
Avalon airport has a long-standing military connection and was first used by federal agencies seven decades years ago as the site for the development of the RAAF's Canberra bomber. Over the current event around 200,000 people are expected to join air force representatives from Australia, France, Japan, Singapore, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. Defence personnel can access complimentary tickets, but are requested to wear their military uniform, no doubt to add to the swash-buckling glamour.
Behind the Orwellian images exhorting civilian families to bring their loved ones to the new Colosseum is a disturbing trend towards uncontested war planning, spending and legitimacy.
Recently the Coalition announced plans to position Australia as one of the world's top 10 arms exporters. Only if there are union jobs with an approved super fund, said a resolute Labor Party. And in the last week we have seen revelations of clear links between publicly-funded Australian arms manufacturers and the provision of weapons to Saudi Arabia, which is currently driving the war in Yemen.
The sponsors of the Avalon event include the federal and state governments along with a who's who of arms corporations. BAE and Raytheon are giving away show bags alongside nuclear weapons heavyweight Lockheed Martin. General Atomics, a shadowy group that has a finger in poisoned pies from drones to uranium mining in South Australia is involved while Northrop Grumman, who's cyber division is able to 'project force' globally, is just one more of the cash-splashers.
And these corporations have cash to splash. In 2015 the leading US arms corporations generated over US$200 billion. An analysis by the Institute for Strategic Studies shows that with an annual spend of around $600 billion, the US is home to 40% of the entire globes' annual military outlay. And with President Trump pushing a massive military budget increase, trumpeting 'peace through strength' and unilaterally shredding nuclear weapons constraints, these are good times for the MBA heavy masters of war.
But it is unlikely that these figures – or their opportunity costs or who makes these decisions and on what basis – will be taking to the air this week. Parade the hardware and avoid the hard questions – since the days of the bread and circus in Rome some public relations strategies remain fundamentally unaltered.
But there are real issues that need to be ventilated along with the Jet fuel and Av-gas. What is the role of state and federal government subsidy for the defense sector? Should Australian academic institutions be entering into commercial-in-confidence research arrangements with multinational weapons, including nuclear weapons, corporations? Why is Australian defense spending growing and who are we protecting – and from what threat – with our $20 billion plus annual spend?
Oh, and one more. How can the event organiser – Aerospace Australia Ltd – be a registered charity? Charity might begin at home but with this sector it directly leads to shattered lives abroad.
Alongside the warplanes, it's time for some plain truths and some high-octane answers.
Published in Chain Reaction #135, April 2019. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia. www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction
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