The Guardian • Issue# 1964

Australian war profiteers face backlash from peace activists

Anti-war activists in and around the Brisbane region flocked together this week to protest Land Forces, a taxpayer-funded biennial exposition promoting military equipment, technology and services for Australian and Indo-Asia-Pacific armies. The blatant military violence recently and historically committed towards West Papuan and Palestinian civilians was a major focus by the protesters, who directly linked these weapons sales and the continued subjugation of these people’s lands. Workshops, concerts, tours and parades were held over the weekend in the lead-up to the midweek Land Forces conference for activists to share, create and educate each other and the general public about the arms trade.

The Disrupt Land Forces festival attracted a diverse range of protesters, including First Nations, Palestinians, West Papuans, Quakers, Greens, and a range of other peace and climate campaigners and organisations who rallied in strong solidarity against the military expo. Several activists were arrested, some on grounds of inappropriate language towards those entering the expo, and others for refusing to move from the entrance of the convention centre. Seventeen were arrested on the grounds of trespassing after entering the exhibition through a side door and occupying a military tank.

Outside the expo, the activists played loud music, banged on pots and pans, blew horns and yelled phrases such as “Baby killers” and “Murderer”, as weapons dealers entered, creating an intentionally uncomfortable experience for them behind the line of police. In addition, two Quakers, Margid Bryn Burns and Frances Long, who have both been directly affected by war, partook in a 24-hour hunger strike to protest the manufacturing and selling of weapons.

“Australia spends $98.9 million a day on so-called defence and related agendas and the governments want to see the industry grow. War-making and weapons manufacturing and trading are taking precedence over funding crucial social areas such as public housing, health, employment and education initiatives”, explained Bryn Burns.

Additionally, a weapons expo such as Land Forces only exists to serve Australian and US imperialist projects. West Papua is a prime example of this, as weapons continue to be pointed at these First Nations people as they watch their lands and waters being destroyed in the name of oil, gas, gold and palm oil. The US-Israeli colonialist project continues in Palestine, as a grossly disproportionately high number of Palestinians are murdered and continue to have their homelands stolen from them. First Nations people in Australia have a direct connection to these struggles as colonised people with a long history of resistance.

While the disruptions to the Land Forces conference have proven to demonstrate a clear rejection of Australia’s participation in war crimes, the question of how to make lasting change to Australia’s foreign policy still lingers. Once the conference is over and the deals have been made, the ability to change outcomes for those being subjugated by the US and Australia remains questionable. Weapons continue to be sold to Saudi Arabia, one of Australia’s biggest customers, in order to subjugate the people of Yemen, who are living in abject poverty and fear. Australian Whistleblowers still remain threatened or imprisoned for exposing SAS war crimes in the Middle East.

While disruption to conferences like these remains important, it is essential that the working class become engaged in peace action through trade unions, to make crucial and lasting change. A range of strategies must continue to be discussed to put pressure on Australia’s subservience to the US, to work towards behaving as a peaceful nation in world affairs.

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