Rohingya Muslims

Australian military ties with Myanmar scrutinised due to treatment of Rohingya

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 3:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 10:52pm

Australia’s military cooperation with Myanmar is currently “totally untenable” due to the treatment of Rohingyas, according to the opposition defence spokesman has said.

The comments on Tuesday came after a speech to the National Press Club in which Labor’s Richard Marles argued Australia should develop its domestic defence industry.

Australia has been criticised for continued cooperation with the military of Myanmar despite its treatment of Muslim Rohingya in the Rakhine state, which the United Nations has said appears to be a textbook example of genocide.

Asked if a future Labor government would follow the example of the European Union, United States, United Kingdom, Canada and France in cutting military ties, Marles described treatment of Rohingya as an “appalling atrocity”.

Marles noted that Myanmar was transitioning from autocratic rule to democracy and “there was … an opportunity to see a greater defence cooperation programme with the Myanmar military”.

“But what has occurred now with the Rohingyas makes that in my view completely untenable,” he said. “Now, actually making that comment pains me, because I feel that in time it is exactly the kind of country we should be working with and exactly the kind of military you would want to have exposed to the way our military operates, but right now, given what has occurred to that minority, I think it’s totally untenable.”

Earlier, in his speech Marles argued Australia needs to develop a coherent underlying rationale for a domestic defence industry and use the next big tender, the awarding of the frigates contract, to ensure most of the intellectual property for the project is based in Australia.

What has occurred now with the Rohingyas makes that [cooperation] in my view completely untenable
Richard Marles, opposition defence spokesman

Following on from confirmation on Monday that the government-owned shipbuilder ASC will cut 223 jobs in South Australia ahead of the air warfare destroyer project winding down, Marles used the speech on Tuesday to argue the Turnbull government should insist the multibillion-dollar frigate build be carried out by “a truly Australian company” to help boost local defence industry capability.

While the defence industry minister, Christopher Pyne, on Monday launched a new defence industrial capability plan, Marles contended the government has been “policy tourists when it comes to the establishment of an Australian defence industry”.

Marles argued the split defence portfolio, with Pyne currently holding the industry responsibilities while Marise Payne maintains the traditional defence minister role, was a knee-jerk reaction to the Coalition’s decision very early in its tenure not to defend local automotive manufacturing, which had a significant presence in SA.

Marles argued that being seen to promote the defence industry suits the government’s political circumstances now, but the commitment will not last if it is delivered devoid of an overarching policy rationale.

“Ultimately I believe that as a nation we have not made the kind of deep decision to have a national defence industry in the way that decision has been made by Israel, Britain or for that matter Sweden,” Marles said.

“There will be those who argue that we have neither the centuries of defence industry tradition enjoyed by Britain nor the existential threat experienced by Israel that would yield such a deep national decision.

“In part of course that’s true. Yet the comparison does highlight the magnitude of the decision we need to make if we really want to build a meaningful national defence industry in Australia. And this is possible to do without the tradition or the existential threat.”