The bi-annual Avalon Air Show, always popular with families, and a great tourist attraction for the Geelong area, has changed in recent years.
Military aircraft have always been a strong presence. The technology they represent, as well as the skill and courage of our RAAF pilots, has always been something to be admired. At our 2017 event, however, military heavy metal took centre stage, and the air show was advertised first and foremost as an opportunity for families to ‘thrill to the raw potency and power’ of state-of-the-art jet fighters, bombers and giant heavy lift leviathans from home and abroad, and to marvel as swarms of attack helicopters ‘join the fray’.
In addition, and of particular concern, It is now accompanied by an international arms fair at which arms dealers from all over the world are invited to sell their military hardware in our region. The comparatively weapons-free Pacific is promoted, in fact, as a market opportunity because it is so weapons-free.
Both these developments – the show as a primarily military display, attempting to normalise the glorification of military might, and the accompanying arms fair – are supported by our state and federal governments. But is either of them in Australia’s best interests? Might they actually risk our security for political and financial gain?
Of course we need weapons to defend ourselves, but the most recent Australian-owned aircraft on display, the Lockheed Martin F-32 is not even intended primarily for the defence of Australia. According to Lieutenant-General Ken Wilsbach, commander of US forces out of Alaska, the F-32 Joint Strike Fighter is ‘meant to be flown complementarily’ with F-22 Raptors, which are only used by the US and which Australia does not have. And from the recently-released Australian Directorate of Army Research and Analysis report on the Iraq war, we know how the government’s selection of military equipment and deployment of troops for political effect confounded our military chiefs during that war. Much of it, the report advises, was without strategic intent and against the advice of members of the ADF, wasting their efforts rather than supporting them.
And for what reason have we become a country that flaunts military destructive might as a public entertainment, like Russia or North Korea? Is this also to normalise our support for American wars rather than to serve Australia? Since when has it been good to tell our children that the power to threaten others is ‘thrilling’? Would we wish them also to admire the capacity of big kids to bully smaller ones? Or the power that men have to physically intimidate women and children? Are we sacrificing good sense here?
As regards the accompanying arms fair, the weapons sales it promotes have already proved a dire scourge in other parts of the world. The international arms trade has never been so big, or so aggressively marketed, as it is today, flooding Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, with weapons. And the arms trade is notoriously corrupt. Almost all deals in these regions have involved incentives or bribes to public officials, undermining good governance, and diverting money from health, education and transport in some of the poorest countries of the world. In addition, the increased availability of weapons makes all conflicts more likely to become violent fights to the death, blighting economic and social development and preventing peaceful initiatives by the UN and other humanitarian organisations.
So far the Pacific has been largely spared this scourge, apart from the sad example of Papua New Guinea, where the ready availability of guns makes it now one of the most dangerous places on the planet for locals and visitors alike, where development is obviously impaired and where humanitarian workers risk being shot. Do we want this for other states in the region? Is this supportive of our defence forces, or does it make it harder for them? In other words, would a Pacific of this kind make Australia more or less secure?
The general public, eager for entertainment and enthralled by technology, is easily led to go along with these aspects of the show. And governments, both state and federal, can easily justify their support for them as ‘support for our armed forces’. But what if they are nothing of the kind? What if the thrust of the show is now primarily a political and commercial exercise?
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