A SHORT HISTORY OF DEFENCE MINISTERS
Richard Marles is the most recent “Defence Minister” for Australia. Before him, Australia had Kim Bomber Beazley who went on to work for Lockheed Martin, Brendon Nelson who became head of Boeing Australia and then Boeing the World, and Christopher Pyne who is advisor to many Australian weapons company ‘Primes’ – Noia, Elbit, EOS – and is Chairman of the Australian Missile Corporation.
We went to Marles’ office in the south part of the Great South Land and asked the $30bn question: who do you represent and when do or DID you make the actual switch from public servant to weapons advocate? Marles recently sent Australian troops to support the US proxy war in the Ukraine. Which government or corporation was behind this? Does Marles now “represent” Raytheon and the rest?
In November 2022, we visited Richard Marles’ office to question the operations of the weapons industry. We wanted to show that ordinary people find the weapons industry unacceptable. Our disapproval is such that we are willing to attend publicly, with some effort, and make some noise.
Marles is currently Minister of Defence. His predecessors – the previous Defence Ministers – have very close relationships with the weapons industry. Three of the previous five defence ministers have ended up in significant executive roles leading or advising weapons corporations after leaving parliament. Beazley, Nelson and Pyne moved very quickly to leadership positions with Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Elbit and Nioa.
These relationships require transparency and investigation. Our question is: “Who does the Defence Minister represent?” Its matching question is: “When did the other Defence Ministers start to work for the weapons corporations?” We’ll let that question hang for now.
Those of us watching the rise and rise of the weapons corporations decided to move into the public arena to challenge their so-called “social license”. We have been identifying their presence and calling them out in public places: in museums, hotels, events, libraries, neighbourhoods, factories, office buildings, ship yards, memorials, children’s camps; all those places the (h)arms dealers make an appearance.
According to the Ethics Centre, the term ‘social license’ – or ‘social license to operate’ – “refers to the acceptance granted to a company or organisation by the community.” https://ethics.org.au/ethics-explainer-social-license-to-operate It represents tacit approval, strengthened each time there is an encounter with the company and people in the community choose to say or do nothing. Our consent, signified by inaction, makes them bolder and enlivens their operations. It has enabled weapons corporations to position themselves to receive $30bn a year in additional public funding for 10 years. They now participate in a program whereby immense amounts of money move from the public “common wealth” to private entities, or weapons corporations, mostly owned by wealthy US citizens.
The US weapons corporations have moved into Australia. They promote unrestrained militarism across our precious Earth, our common home. While promoting the flawed, dishonest discourses of the US elite, they “agitate for war”. When was the last time you heard a weapons dealer promote diplomatic peaceful methodologies? And where are they quietly sponsoring peacemaking? The truth is that weapons corporations’ executives are clear that a sense of imminent war and ongoing violence is good for profits and share prices. Financial gain is their only aim and war is good for business.
What can we do?
Where do we find them? And how can we act?
They are amongst us in plain sight. Weapons corporations are present in our spaces both physically, with offices, factories and warehouses, and socially, with key individuals attending industry and political functions with sickening regularity. Weapons executives and lobbyists attend luncheons and events. They make public appearances as guest speakers and keynotes. Both physically and socially, weapons companies are accessible, and available to activism.
The corporations show up at training and industry events in various sponsoring roles. We found Lockheed Martin sponsoring a ‘STEM in Defence’ event. The weapons corporations extend their tentacles through ‘civilian’ contracts and partnerships. Each new partnership offers the possibility of a new target, a new opportunity for smashing the social license of (h)arms dealers..
In 2021 we found Brendan Nelson introducing Dutton at a luncheon put on by the American Chamber of Commerce. At the Land Forces weapons expo in October 2022 we encountered Brendan Nelson emerging from the gala dinner. Christopher Pyne had his car splashed with fake blood. Both polite and less polite discourse was had with ex-SAS soldier Andrew Hastie. They were all there at Land Forces, making deals.
Richard Marles now presents a new ‘target’ as a potential representative of the weapons industry. Marles has met with ex-Raytheon executive and current US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin 3 times (publicly) since he came to office 4 months ago..
What to do and how?
First we create ‘evil brand recognition’. We call them out AND those they associate with.
It can be a bit hard at first. It’s not necessarily nice.
Some of us folk in the colony have been socialised to be overly ‘polite’ in the face of all sorts of bullshit. Not everyone, obviously. But ‘generally speaking’, people have been discouraged from speaking truth to power.
This is not a politeness born of real respect and inclusion. This is a set of behaviours whereby people are trained to look away, to not speak, to not take up the space and make intellectual effort required to notice and act. We may have been harshly humiliated or traumatised in order to NOT speak. In the sixties we were hit, and had our ears pinched if we saw something we were not supposed to notice. We may feel a deep discomfort when people tell the truth. So addressing the weapons industry directly is not necessarily easy. We have been trained to be quiet and to not speak of what we see with our own eyes.
Removing social license requires us to be out and proud, loud, confident and relaxed. It needs us to take up large and high spaces that speak powerfully about the truth.
Truth Telling must be seen.
Partner with us
Wage Peace is looking for partner groups and campaigns to work alongside, parallel campaigns with the same targets, other campaigns that have ALSO identified the weapons industry as a problem. For example the BDS campaign has identified Elbit as a target and Wage Peace has done a number of actions and events together with the BDS campaign. Any group engaging in struggle against militarism and enforced extractivism may also be potential collaborators.
Following are some of the methods we use which assist us to become creative with targets and tactics.
- We show up in the locations that the arms dealers show up.
- We make it performative using the artistic skills and interests of individuals in the group.
- We use the locations to shape the activity and tell the story.
- We try different tactics from the many articulated in the politics of nonviolence.
- We take up space.
- We are loud, we are high.
- We put our bodies where we may not be expected.
- We are invisible, then visible, then invisible again.
- We use elements of the culture we want to see.
We try to draw them into the light and then we smash their social license.
We make BEAUTIFUL TROUBLE. We dissent.
We are dissenters.