Cut Military Spending

John Kaye's Global Day of Action on Military Spending speech

Today is the global day of action on military spending. Never in the history of the world has the need for such a day been greater. Worldwide military spending has reached $1.6 trillion a year and is growing at about 5.1 per cent, which means that it doubles every 14 years. Growth was slowed slightly by the global financial crisis, but current signs demonstrate that the rate of increase in military expenditure around the world is again increasing.

This is bad news for the people and the planet's environment for three key reasons. The first is that the higher the level of military spending the greater the chance of war. A high level of arms offers governments the temptation to resolve by force that which should be resolved by negotiation. The end consequence in the history of this planet is people dying needlessly and societies being ripped apart by war. All too often the Third World suffers the greatest impact. The poorest people are always the victims of the greatest number of wars.

Many of us here today are old enough to remember the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. Our world still has far too many weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation of nuclear weapons to governments and terrorist organisations poses one of the greatest threats to the future of human survival. Mutually assured destruction may have disappeared as a policy, but it exists as a doctrine in far too many small conflicts. We need a world that is free from nuclear weapons. The only way to achieve that is to reduce expenditure on all other weapons as well.

The second reason to be concerned about the $1.6 trillion global expenditure on the military is that it distorts the economy. It is interesting to note that when The Greens issued our call to end Australia's $2 billion worth of arms exports the Federal Minister for Defence Materiel, Jason Clare, sounded the warning that it would cost thousands of jobs. He did not realise that he was revealing the reality of military expenditure. On Mr Clare's figures, that means that military expenditure costs millions of dollars for every job created.

Spending money on the military is probably the least efficient way of generating jobs; it is the least efficient way of stimulating an economy. Military expenditure has little or no multiplier. It is a little like digging a hole in the ground and then filling it in. Unlike investments in a productive economy, military hardware does not create further jobs other than for the military. If we want to create jobs, we should not invest in the military economy

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The third reason is that the $1.6 trillion could be used for other sensible, civilian purposes. Australia is about to spend $16 billion on its joint strike fighters, the F35As. If we spent that money in the education sector we could build 730 new high schools. If we spent that money in Indonesia we could provide secular education for five million young people.

The military development goals globally would cost about $6 billion a year to implement. That represents less than 5 per cent of military expenditure. Australia's contribution to assisting the Third World in reducing global warming and achieving a global middle-class standard is estimated at $12 billion a year. Just 6.5 per cent of Australia's growth in military expenditure would provide our contribution to an acceptable standard of living through the growth of a low carbon economy.

These are key issues for Australia. Every day we spend $87 million on our military. That represents between 9 per cent and 10 per cent of Federal Government outlays, contributing about $32 billion a year from the budget. Australia has the sixth largest per capita expenditure on military hardware and personnel. It is an expensive investment that could be directed elsewhere in our economy.

Australia must address these real issues. Do we want to continue to spend on our military? Do we want to continue to allow a slow-running military arms race between us and our neighbours, or should we be looking for a more peaceful and negotiated solution, whereby we begin to disarm our neighbourhood and spend some of that $32 billion a year on things that make us genuinely safer?