Australia looks to become a top arms exporter over the next decade

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Thales CEO Chris Jenkins at Thales Underwater Systems in Sydney today. Mr Turnbull has unveiled a plan to become one of the world’s top 10 exporters of military hardware. (Photo: Daniel Munoz/AAP)

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Thales CEO Chris Jenkins at Thales Underwater Systems in Sydney. Turnbull has unveiled a plan to become one of the world’s top 10 exporters of military hardware. (Photo: Daniel Munoz/AAP)

Government officials in Australia unveiled a multi-billion dollar strategy Monday to become one of the world’s top arms exporters by 2028.

Defense Minister Christopher Pyne said growing Australia’s defense exports — currently worth between AU$1.5 billion and AU$2.5 billion — will create jobs and spur economic growth, boosting the country’s reputation around the globe.

“It is an ambitious, positive plan to boost Australian industry, increase investment, and create more jobs for Australian businesses,” Pyne said in a news release Monday. “Australia has so many defence industry success stories: Thales’ Bushmaster, Hawkei and sonars, Austal’s ships and engineering and CEA’s world beating radar, amongst many others. This strategy sets the conditions for even more success, and more defence industry jobs in the future.”

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ranked Australia as the 20th largest arms exporter in the world in 2016. The new Defense Export Plan identifies “priority markets” it will target in its efforts to climb the rankings, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific region.

The plan sets aside AU$20 million in the 2018-19 budget to fund specific initiatives, including AU$4.1 million in grants for small and medium-sized defense companies “to compete internationally” and AU$6.35 million to develop a multi-year export strategy.

Australia’s Export Finance and Insurance Corporation will also administer a AU$3.8 billion loan program, called the Export Defense Facility, for companies seeking financing for international sales deals.

“It will provide confidence to Australian Defence industry to identify and pursue new export opportunities knowing Efic’s support is available when there is a market gap for defence finance,” Pyne said.

Critics say the plan defies Australian values of promoting stability in war-torn regions and diverts billions in taxpayer-funded humanitarian aid to defense spending.

“We should be helping to build peace and stability with our allies not working our way up the arms dealers’ top 100,” said Marc Purcell, CEO of the Australian Council for International Development.  “Australians believe we need less violence and conflict in the world and will be questioning why their tax-dollars are being used to fuel bloodshed.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has invested over AU$200 billion into the Australian Defense Force capability since taking office in 2015, according to a government news release.

“Rather than fuel conflict, Australian aid has helped millions of people get an education, receive better healthcare and has increased peace and security,” Purcell said. “We need to refocus on reducing the drivers of conflict – helping people with the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity.”

Tim Costello, chief advocate for World Vision, shamed government leaders for prioritizing weapons exports over renewable energy or biotechnology in a joint statement with Purcell this week.

“Millions of people across the world are running from violence and our answer to that is to produce more weapons,” he said. “Whatever money we make from this dirty business will be blood money.”