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Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Page: 29

Senator LUDLAM (9:59 PM) —I did not have the opportunity this afternoon to comment on a document that was tabled today by the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, Senator Faulkner, but I would like to take the opportunity to do so now and make a couple of brief comments on the document, Going to the next level, which is the review of Australian defence spending. It provides important information that the Australian Greens will be studying at length because it relates to where billions of dollars of Australian taxpayers’ money is going.

First, I would like to lament that the minister considers it a matter of pride that the Rudd government:

.. this year and in the coming years will spend more money on Defence than at any time in the history of the Federation.

He goes further to say that in three years time we will be spending $6 billion annually more on defence than the Howard government spent in the last year in office. There is something about the celebratory tone of that announcement that I find deeply disturbing. It occurs to me that there is something deeply wrong with the international order if we have to continually increase defence spending and it should not really be a matter of celebration or pride.

I find this a deep disappointment and a huge opportunity cost when we consider the real security threats facing this nation at the moment—the needs of pensioners, which we have debated extensively in here; the needs of Indigenous Australians and the resources that will be required to close the gap; the needs of students and the problem of student poverty; the needs of people who cannot access health care; and the needs of our environment. We are continually told that we are in a time of economic crisis. How can we say there is not enough for pensioners but we are spending more on defence than at any time in history?

While the security risk assessments are being thoroughly explored in the coming defence white paper, we know from the public hearings that have been taking place throughout the country—and that is a very welcome transparency initiative by the government—that over and again Australians are questioning a narrow military definition of security. Australians are joining the rest of the world in seeing real utility in adopting a human security concept which asks what makes people and nations feel secure. The answer is a lot more than guns, bombs and tanks.

The inconvenient fact for arms producers—that large array of weapons profiteers and their sponsor governments—is that bombs, guns and landmines will not deter or remove the threat of a tsunami, a hurricane, a flood, a virus like HIV or avian flu, and particularly water shortages, food shortages and climate change. These are the real security threats of our time. Military hardware and equipment can do nothing to alleviate these security problems. Instead, the acquisition of arms diverts enormous financial, technical and human resources from where they are really needed.

The minister has made clear in his statement that the amounts we are talking about are truly enormous. According to the 2008 yearbook from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global military expenditures in 2007 were a colossal US$1.339 trillion—a real-terms increase of six per cent over 2006 and of 45 per cent since 1998. Australia’s contribution to this is $62 million every single day.

The USA’s military spending accounted for 45 per cent of the world’s total in 2007, followed by the UK, China, France and Japan. Since 2001 US military expenditure has increased by 59 per cent in real terms, principally because of massive spending on military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also because of increases in the base defence budget, and Australia is following this pattern. By 2007, US spending was higher than at any time since World War II. But it does not seem to be doing the United States much good—militarily, economically or politically. And Australia should be very cautious about following the USA down this path of confusing military spending with security. Because we are spending $1.3 trillion a year globally, it is the equivalent of 600 years of the United Nations budgets spent every single year. And $22 billion is the total spending in Australia, about 40 times more than what is spent on climate change mitigation. That shows you where the government’s priorities seem to lie. Reversing a real security threat, catastrophic climate change, will require a paradigm shift in resource allocation. We can meet this challenge, but only if we reallocate these funds from Cold War 20th century security thinking to the reality of the 21st century.

The second point I would like to briefly raise is whether we really want the Defence Materiel Organisation to run more like a corporation and less like a bureaucracy. While making disparaging remarks about bureaucracy in Canberra is easily done—it is a bit of a cheap shot—we should seriously consider that a one-dimensional profit motive business approach is also a very risky approach to defence spending. It would erode principles and standards to focus simply on the bottom line. We know that, after the billions of dollars wasted through defence procurement and misallocation during the Howard years, the bottom line is extremely important. But I would question the minister’s repeated assertion and confidence that business would be more welcome than bureaucracy in the DMO. There were serious shortcomings in the way the Howard government handled defence procurement and we welcome a review of practice, but we will be going through it in detail because the Greens believe that spending such vast sums on security infrastructure is a huge misallocation of precious resources.