Even in times of peace, war, and making a killing off of it, is never an essential activity or service. So why would the Queensland State Government sponsor and allow a huge convergence of arms and defence manufacturers in the middle of the worst global pandemic in a century?
Across Australia and in Brisbane, people are being asked to make sacrifices to flatten the curve with many family friendly events, such as the Ekka, being cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. Yet one non-essential event, which could see thousands of military personnel and weapons manufacturers from around the world descend on the city, still remains on the radar: Land Forces 2020.
The decision to press ahead with the Land Forces 2020 conference seems to contradict the assessment and advice of Australia’s Chief Medical Officer. Dr Brendan Murphy has clearly stated that until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, “we certainly would not be contemplating large-scale gatherings” - like music festivals. With 15,000 people reported at the previous Land Forces Conference it begs the questions; how can the Queensland Government allow this event to go ahead, when music festivals and other large gatherings look like they will be off the cards for potentially up to two more summers?
What is Land Forces 2020?
Land Forces 2020 is essentially an arms fair -or trade show - and military conference sponsored by the Queensland Government and the Australian Department of Defence. Some of the world’s largest arms and defence manufacturers are expected to exhibit their wares – at the taxpayer’s expense. The event is scheduled to take place from 1-3 September at the Brisbane Convention Centre. According to organisers, the last expo, Land Forces in 2018, “...attracted record total combined attendances of 15,331 over the period of the event, from throughout Australia and the world (up from 13,450 in 2016)” and promoted “624 companies from 26 countries.”
For many years, the conference has been opposed by activists who question the moral right of the conference to go ahead as profiteering off war continues to result in death and destruction of people in the global south, exacerbates climate change and the abuse of human rights, with the majority of casualties in modern warfare being civilians. In recent years we have seen the consequences of climate change, famine and war decimate countries such as Syria, resulting in millions of displaced people seeking asylum. The cycle of the military industrial complex can be felt for generations and it begins with the profiteering of weapons designed for no other purpose than to kill.
Is making a killing an essential service?
COVID-19 has forced us to question the definition of essential activity and services in our communities and our broader society. This crisis poses an opportunity to resist the urge to return to ‘business as usual.’ Aside from the obvious moral reasoning behind stopping war for the protection of human rights, what about the environment? Federal and State governments should not be sponsoring and encouraging the development of a war economy as some lucrative pathway to economic recovery and job creation in a post COVID-19 lockdown world. Now is the time for us to implement systems change and move towards a world that centres life, care and sustainability rather than extraction, violence and profiteering through domination and oppression.
Take action: Will Annastacia Palaszczuk bend the rules on large gatherings for the military and their corporate buddies, or will she cancel Land Forces 2020 and stand up for a safer world and environment?
Peace is a precursor to climate justice
It is a well established fact that the military is bad for the climate. The Australian Defence Force has said that “climate change will see higher temperatures, increased sea-level rise and will increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events” in their 2016 Defence White Paper. While the list of exhibitors for this year’s Land Forces conference has not been released, past exhibitor lists show that the Queensland Government is most likely sponsoring an event that includes at least nine of the top ten global arms producers and key players in the global weapons supply chain. These companies are literally making a killing from killing. The Queensland Government as the official sponsor and the owner of the venue, the Brisbane Convention Centre, is using our taxpayer dollars to fund these corporations profiteering from war and destruction.
We can only estimate the combined emissions from the activity of the above corporations, but even more mysterious is the total carbon emissions of militaries from around the world. What we do know is that the US military is the world’s largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels and the single largest emitter of Greenhouse Gases. Further, under the current ‘Paris Climate Agreement’ reporting of defence emissions is voluntary and readers may not be surprised to learn that military reporting of emissions does not appear to be happening.
Back in 2019, Friends of the Earth wrote to the Department of Defence in an attempt to establish the - 'carbon bootprint' - emissions of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The silence and obfuscation we received in response was deafening. It is clear that the ADF considers its activities above and beyond the scrutiny and accountability required to maintain a safe climate.
Peace is a precursor to environmental justice
We know that the recent devastating fires have meant that 50 nationally threatened animal and plant species had 80% of their habitat (and another 65 have had more than half) affected by bushfire. Our ecosystems are under great stress and even the ADF acknowledged in the 2016 White Paper that “effective environmental management is an important part of successfully managing and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Defence estate.”
The Talisman Sabre live fire exercises, joint US- AUS combined forces training portrayed by the military as harmless ‘war games’, take place every 2 years within the waters of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, with key locations on Ramsar listed wetlands significant to migratory birds near Shoalwater Bay. In a situation similar to its lack of disclosure around reporting carbon emissions, the ADF has consistently obfuscated the real impacts of these military exercises on the environment. The Department of Defence authored and published its own Environmental Report for Talisman Sabre in 2019. It claimed that live fire exercise would not take place, however omitted the periods in the lead up to the official dates in which live firing exercises did occur - and omitted other areas likely to be used as part of the wider exercise - thus diminishing the reported or calculable environmental impact.
Further, the US military, with whom we train and in whose military actions we support, is not only a huge carbon emitter but also a huge polluter. In A Communication Perspective on the Military, interactions, messages and discourses we see that 750,000 tons of toxic waste are produced annually, establishing the US military as the largest single polluter of any agency or organisation in the world. Toxic military sites, nuclear test zones, undisclosed uranium munitions (DU) weapons use sites and PFAS contaminated regions dot the Australian continent as well.
Friends of the Earth have been tracking per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination from the ADF and other sources for quite some time. You can view a map of PFAS contaminated sites put together by Friends of the Earth volunteers here.
Back in March 2019, Friends of the Earth welcomed a decision to compensate Mr Eric Donaldson for pollution of groundwater used on his property, near the Army Aviation Centre at Oakey in Southern Queensland. However, in a shocking move, the Department of Defence would not make any admissions of liability - despite the settlement. Thousands of “red-zone” residents are now involved in legal action against the Department of Defence.
The Department of Defence is still investigating PFAS contamination from its activity around the country, with AirServices Australia and state governments looking into the potentially hundreds of contaminated sites. Friends of the Earth continues to work with the community on the matter.
Peace is a precursor to economic justice
Land Forces 2020 is not about the defence of Australia nor is it about security based on anything other than threat of the use of force. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the reality that militaries are incapable of responding to broad scale environmental threats and the social consequences. In fact, in many ways, militaries in times of crisis, including the current pandemic, exacerbate environmental destruction along with social, economic, and gender inequality and oppression.
Meanwhile the Federal government in Australia is pushing for our country to become a “top-ten global defence exporter by 2028) expecting to increase the military budget from 38.7 billion this year to $175.8 billion in 2022-23. That’s an increase from an already staggering 100 million+ per day to over 480 million per day. State governments currently appear to be vying to take the lead; with Queensland aiming to turn the Sunshine State into the Khaki State.
Ironically, the push to make Australia a bigger defence player has, in fact, seen Australia increase its defence imports making Australia the world’s second biggest weapons importer behind Saudi Arabia. Australia’s commitment to US led militarism has seen a budget blow out with 2108 “ payments for expensive new aircraft such as Joint Strike Fighters as well as French work on the Future Submarine project [are] believed to have helped push Australia close to the top of global defence import rankings.”
State and federal governments are plowing money into defence industries - imports and exports - while local manufacturing, the arts, healthcare, climate change responses and research are underfunded. The millions being spent to develop Australian tanks, could have helped maintain and develop a local car industry or provided just transitions for workers out of the fossil fuel industry into sustainable energy systems.
War is incompatible with the environment and contributes significantly to economic, gender and racial injustice across the globe. Investment in military capability should be diverted to supporting industries that strengthen communities, centre care and life in our societies and prioritise environmental sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the fact that the billions of dollars spent on defence are useless in the face of global environmental and social crises.
Our governments should not be profiteering off weapons of war but creating a post COVID-19 economy that affirms and centres life and care, investing in peace, justice and sustainability - not the war machine.
Peace is a precursor to gender justice
Women and children are disproportionately impacted by war, austerity and the current pandemic. War threatens social infrastructure such as healthcare, transportation, sanitation, and education as well as agriculture systems and the environment. As primary caretakers for the young and elderly, and even in peacetime economically disadvantaged, women are at the frontlines of caring for community as they are during the COVID-19 crisis. Women are often left to protect their, land, their communities and their families in war zones, are targeted with gendered violence including war crimes such as rape and kidnapping. They often have less representation in political and other power structures within their societies. Women are, in fact, on the frontlines in war, in the fight for climate justice and in the global response to the pandemic, making up the majority of workers in services, health and other care industries, grocery and server sectors, all of which are considered essential services. Also much like in war, women are also severely impacted by the pandemic, facing spikes in domestic, sexual and State violence across the globe during this crisis.
Even within the military, women face discrimination and sexual violence. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs “nearly a quarter of women veterans who seek health care from the VA report experiencing at least one sexual assault while in the military (1.2% of male veterans).” Defence industries which promise to support post war or post-COVID-19 economic recovery are also male-dominated and notoriously poor at providing workplaces free of sexism and misogyny with the Australian women in defence industries report stating that “(women) experience high levels of discrimination and sexism, both overt and subtle.” War and economies based on extractivism and military violence normalise violence at home and in other sectors of our society. There can be no climate justice or economic justice if we build our economies on industries that perpetuate violence and gender oppression.
At a time when most Australians are being told to stay at home for safety, and are in many cases finding it harder to make ends meet, it is an outrage that our federal and state governments are spending money to put on an event at which some of the wealthiest and most lethal corporations on the planet can exhibit their killing machines. These arms manufacturers have hugely contributed to the current ecological crisis we face and profiteer from weapons of war where women and children are the first casualties. If the Queensland Government does not cancel Land Forces 2020, these war profiteers may also contribute to spreading the virus into the broader community, where once again it will be women and other vulnerable or marginalised communities who will pay the price for corporations to have the opportunity to quite literally make a killing at this conference.