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Defence

Australia’s bold plan to become one of world’s top 10 arms exporters

Australia’s expansion plans come amid increased global demand for military hardware, prompting criticism from aid agencies who argue Australia could make human rights violations worse if weapons were sold to the wrong buyers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 January, 2018, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 January, 2018, 10:15pm

Australia’s government has announced a strategy to create hi-tech jobs and become one of the top 10 defence-industry-exporting countries within a decade through arms sales to liked-minded nations while also keeping those weapons from rogue regimes.

Australia will create a A$3.8 billion (US$3.1 billion) fund to lend to exporters that banks are reluctant to finance, a central defence export office and expand the roles of defence attaches in Australian embassies around the world.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that with A$200 billion budgeted to increase Australian defence capabilities in the next decade, Australia should rank higher than 20th among arms-exporting countries.

The planned Australian military build-up was the largest in its peacetime history, he said.

“Given the size of our defence budget, we should be a lot higher up the scale than that. So the goal is to get into the top 10,” Turnbull said.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said Australia would focus on growing sales to its biggest markets including the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, which already import Australian-made equipment including the Bushmaster armoured vehicle and the Nulka missile decoy. The five nations belong to an intelligence-sharing network known as the Five Eyes.

“We want to support the United States, the UK, New Zealand, Canada, our European friends and allies, Japan, South Korea, et cetera, in what is a building up of the global military capability of countries like ourself who support the rules-based international order,” Pyne said.

“The defence export strategy is not designed to get into markets where we don’t want to be. It’s designed to maximise the markets where we perhaps haven’t been making the most of our opportunities.”

Turnbull said the strategy was about creating hi-tech Australian jobs and not a response to any national threat, such as increasing tensions and the Chinese military build-up in the South China Sea over competing territorial claims.

“Apart from North Korea, there is no country in the region that shows any hostile intent toward Australia,” Turnbull said.

“We don’t see threats from our neighbours in the region, but, nonetheless, every country must always plan ahead and you need to build the capabilities to defend yourself, not just today, but in 10 years or 20 years hence. ”

The push to increase Australian defence manufacturing jobs came after General Motors Co. in October became the last carmaker to quit building Australian cars.

Most of the new Australian defence spending is on submarines and frigates that will be largely built in Australia.

Australian law prohibits military exports that are inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations or national interests.

Prospective exports are assessed in areas including impacts on human rights, regional security and Australian foreign policy.

“We’ve got strict controls and those controls make sure we only supply defence assets in the future to like-minded countries that have a strong human rights record and have protections in place.” Trade Minister Steve Ciobo told Nine Network television.

Amnesty International said it been urging Australia to publicly report on arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and its allies in the war in Yemen.

“While there is reluctance on the government’s part to exercise transparency in its arms exports trade, it is unthinkable that it would even contemplate expanding it,” the London-based rights group coordinator Diana Sayed said in a statement.

Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a government-established independent think tank, said the top-10 target was achievable and would create an industry base to support the Australian military.