Excerpts from Politics In The Pub with Dr Margaret Beavis

Sunday, 12 July 2020 - 9:15am to 9:30am


Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia)

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My name is Zachary Doney, CICD member and hospitality worker. and I’ll be playing some audio clips from last week’s Politics in the Pub discussion on ‘Can Australia Have An Independent Foreign Policy?’ with guest speaker Dr Margaret Beavis of the Medical Association for Prevention of War.

Politics in the Pub Melbourne is a new initiative led by peace activists, unionists and politically active members of the public. If you are interested in helping form a Politics in the Pub committee please contact Romina at peacecentre@cicd.org.au or 0414 352 542.

The full audio and video of the event can be found here:
Politics In The Pub https://www.facebook.com/Politics-in-the-Pub-105066541262764/
Live stream video: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=294005101968687

Now, let’s hear some clips from the event and discuss if it’s possible for Australia to have an independent foreign policy.
Up first is Romina introducing the topic and the speaker:

The subject of the event is "Can Australia have An Independent Foreign Policy and how can we do that?"
Austrlaia's ruling class has always sought support from foreign powers, which pre-WWII was Britain. Following the fall of Singapore in 1942 and the withdrawal of British forces from the East the Australian govt. changed our loyalty from Britain to the US. In 1950 Aus followed the US into the Korean war, followed by the Vietnam war. In 2001, Afghanistan. In 2003, Iraq. Syria in 2014. In 2019 Australia followed the US to the Strait of Hormuz. Australia committed to participating in the "shipping protection force."
Who better to talk about this topic than Dr Margaret Beavis?
Dr Margaret Beavis is a GP with over twenty-five years’ experience in community medicine. Her research, writing and teaching interests include nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and the weapons industry. She is also interested in the Australian government spending on defence, diplomacy and foreign aid and how Australia decides to go to war.  She has a particular interest in health and the environment, both on a global scale, and in her local community. Recent publications have focused on the UN treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and nuclear waste issues in Australia.

Dr Margaret Beavis is the Vice President of the Medical Association for prevention of War, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Australia co-chair.

Zachary: As I mentioned before I am going to play clips from the event. Here's Dr Beavis:

Dr. B: The subsidising of the military weapons manufacturer is justified as "job job jobs, jobs & growth," we;ve all heard it. If you actually look at the research: when you spend a billion dollars on a particular industry there are better outcomes than weapons. Health, education and renewables all yield better returns. Health and education yield more than double returns. Renewables yield a 140% return. 

Z: We assume here Margaret is referring to a study done by the Costs of War Project at Brown University. Margaret is going off memory here and says there is a 40% increase in jobs from renewables investment, but the figure is 21 percent increase in jobs for wind energy development per 1 million dollars invested. She is right in saying that education investments create almost double the jobs per 1 million invested, the figure being an increase of 178 percent.

In a time when there is 1 job for every 18 Jobseekers, the government should invest money wisely in industries that are more cost effective at producing jobs such as renewables, infrastructure, and especially healthcare and education.

[Study at Brown: https://www.brown.edu/news/2017-05-25/jobscow]

Dr. B: The place of the weapons industry in education is insidious. People are starting to become aware of this. As state education and tertiary education become increasingly starved of funds the weapons industry has stepped in to offer prizes at the secondary level and education assistance, subsidies. At the teriarty level, for instance in melbourne, they have multi-million dollar partnerships were they sponsor and pay for schlarships for PhD students. The weapons manufacturers then get access to the research. This is very comprimising. In the Melborne example it's Lockheed Martin which is the biggest weapons manufacturer in the world and is closely tied with nuclear weapons systems.

Z: This is big news to me. Dr Beavis is talking about Australia’s Defence Science Partnerships program that partners universities with Defence and national security agencies on collaborative research projects.

Margaret’s example of these partnerships is Lockheed Martin’s, the largest weapons manufacturer, partnership with University of Melbourne. This is a company that supplies weapons to Saudi Arabia that fuels the war in Yemen and to Israel that fuels their settler-colonial project against Palestinians. Our universities are now complicit in these activities and produce research that is favourable for weapons manufacturers and imperialist conflicts.

It is also worth mentioning the US-Australia International Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (AUSMURI). This is a project that facilitates international research between American and Australian universities with US Department of Defense at its core. Australian universities are able to get a grant up to $3 million through the programme, subject approval by the US Department of Defense’s University research initiative.

Between Australia’s Defence Science Partnerships program and the US-Australia Research Initiative, our universities are tied up with US Department of Defense and multi-national weapons manufacturers.


Dr. B: Australia was the 4th highest weapons importer in 2018 and we risk starting a [regional] arms race [with the recent announcement of $270bn in military spending over the next decade]. This belligerent, Right-wing rhetoric of enhancing fear in the community to justify the purchases... it's really concerning what's happening.

Z: In 2018 we were the 4th biggest importer of weapons but now we are the second biggest importer of weapons, second to Saudi Arabia. Why do we need this many weapons?


Dr. B: I found out a few years ago that we have a senior Major General and other ssenior Australian military people in the chain of command in the Pacific. So, the top person is a US person, the second person in command, answering to the top person, is an Australian. We are enmeshed in the US chain of command. This means if the US decides to go to war we're already in their fighting machine.
The other astounding piece of enmeshment is that our oil reserves are located in the US. How on Earth do we think that, in a war situation, those reserves are going to cross the Pacific to come to us. It's laughable and it's another piece of enmeshment tying us into the US war machine.

Z: It makes sense for us to be able to co-ordinate with our military allies. What seems to be happening, though, is we have let our military alliance with the US become a unilateral affair in which we follow at their beck and call. We cannot exercise an independent foreign policy because our military affairs are so tightly interwoven with the US. 

An example of this are the activities co-ordinated through Pine Gap. 

Dr. B: When Australia was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan a lot of that signals intelligence went through Pine Gap. Pine Gap is controlled by the Americans. Our military missions were, infact, under control of the Americans by default.

Z: Also, Pine Gap is used to commit atrocities overseas. The bloodbath in Yemen is further inflamed by US drone strikes, co-ordinated through Pine Gap 

Dr. B: Of big concern: Pine Gap is used to target drone strikes. it does mean that Australia is culpable in these drone strikes which are effectively extra-judicial killings where suspects have no due process, there's no court of law, there's no hearing. Also the people around those subjects - there have been many civilian deaths documented and Australia is part of this.

Z: While we're on the topic of Yemen:  thanks to our govt using taxpayer money to subsidise multinational weapons manufacturers our taxpayer money goes directly to murdering the Yemeni people:

Dr. B: The Govt is heavily subsidising weapons companies now, even though most of them are Australian branches of huge multi-nationals. There's a $3.8bn loan subsidy scheme. In addition to that there are direct grants to companies which we do not know about. One we doknow about is #38 million given to EOS Weapons systems in Canberra. This company makes gun emplacements that have rocket launchers and guns which can be placed onto of an armoured vehicle and operated remotely so one does not have to stand outside the armoured vehicle to fire the weapons. It's revolting that $38 million of our taxpayer money went to a weapons system that was then exported to the US and then exported to Yemen. This despite suppososedly good arms control measures preventing Australia selling weapons to places where tehre are human right violations.

Z: Last but not least:

Dr. B: Pine Gap is also used for nuclear weapons targetting.

Z: Boo.

Dr. B: I think it's really important, in any war situation, that we talk about the undue influence of the weapons industry. We need to address this and there are ways to address this. They're sort-of half-hearted measures being talked about in Canberra which would be good but are being done very badly. For instance: lobbying. It came out earlier this week that the government's promises to keep a lobbying register, the auditor-general has been given a scathing report to say they're not keeping a proper record of who is lobbying our parliamentarians. Really, lobbying is very important because successful lobbying basically means that vested interests triumph over public interests. Similarly donations: more than half of the donations made in Australia are opaque. We urgently need transparent, real-time donation reporting. In America you know about donations within two weeks, whereas in Australia it can take 14-18 months [for donations to be reported]. Often these donations are hidden by the use of foundations.

Z: Yeah, so, we can't understand the full influence of weapons industry lobbying and donation if we haven't addressed lobbying and do not have effective donations reporting mechanism. Dr. Beavis' examples of the US' reporting system vs ours are interesting but obviously this hasn't stopped the US from militarising the world in their interests. I think this point continues into Margaret's next point, which is "war powers reform"

Dr. B: War powers reform is terribly important. There's too many times where Australia has gone to war because it was politically convenient. The current process rests with the Prime Minister and the executive. In the US and the UK and various other countries both houses of parliament come together when war is contemplated. They debate what's happening, they debate what the information is, and then they vote. Andrew Wilkie, as you all know, the Tasmanian independent MP resigned over what poor-quality intelligence there was for [Australia's participation in] the Iraq War. And he was, of course, proved right in the end.

Z: As we can understand from the examples given, war powers reform is no panacea for Australia's lack of independent foreign policy. It is part of a programme of changes, which include, as Dr Beavis tell us...

Dr. B: Diplomacy is the key to peace. It's not terribly exciting. If you prevent a conflict you don't see too much. But it is a hugely cost-effective and a really worthwhile investment. We need electoral reform... what I think we're talking about is strategic independence. What we have now is strategic dependence and it's not strategic [for Australia] at all. We need an independent foreign policy so we're not dragged, yet again, into yet another US war.

Z: The Campaign for International Co-operation and Disarmament stands firmly against US wars and stands firmly for a non-aligned and independent foreign policy. 

Thanks goes to Margaret for coming onto the first Politics In The Pub. As I mentioned earlier, if you are interested in being part of the committee to organise POlitics In The Pub, please reach out to peacecentre@cicd.org.au.

[presenter signs off]
Coming up next - Concrete Gang.

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Romina Beitseen and Andrew Irving