What do you think the arms trade is, a charity? Actually yes, that’s what it is

Michael West Media, by Callum Foote | Oct 7, 2022,

All’s not fair at the warfare Expo, where taxpayer-funded arms merchants hobnob with military types by invitation only. “Aggressive” journalists not allowed. Persona non grata Callum Foote reports on Land Forces 2022, Australia’s biggest War Fair.

Land Forces is the annual exposition for the defence industry, or the most profitable corporate welfare exercise in the country. 

Australia is the fourth largest importer of weapons in the world, behind Saudi Arabia, India and Egypt. It is roughly the 20th largest exporter of weapons. This is a disparity former Defence Minister Christopher Pyne, now a defence industry consultant, set out to rectify in 2018 with the launch of the $3 billion Defence Export Strategy after meeting with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan. Pyne, who was in attendance at Land Forces 2022, stated at the time the goal of making Australia a top-10 exporter.

Over the next decade, the Australian government will invest $200 billion in the Defence Force with an eye to support the weapons export industry. In line with these goals, Australian military spending has shot through the roof – from $10 billion in 2000 to just under $50 billion in the last budget. The big winners? Largely foreign multinational defence contractors, and plenty of small local ones too; they’re growing along with the public spending.

Land Forces is their gathering, the gathering of the year for those looking to earn a profit from this public investment. The conference brings in interest from international weapons makers such as Boeing and Thales as well as 700-odd smaller Australian manufacturers and service providers hoping to get in on the action.

Alms for arms

The company behind Land Forces, AMDA, formerly the Aerospace Maritime and Defence Foundation of Australia, is part of group of companies registered with Australian Charities and Non-for-profit Commission which operates around the country. 

Yes, that’s right: AMDA is a weapons charity; and despite its income of $10m-plus from defence contractors and governments, it also helped itself to JobKeeper subsidies, despite rising profits during the Pandemic.

t has 24 full-time-equivalent employees and had a total revenue in 2021 of $8.5 million – 13% of which came from government grants.

While revenue in 2021 was down from 2020, where the ‘‘charity’’ pulled in $10.5 million, profit was actually up from $2.1 to $3.5 million. Sales revenue also rose slightly in 2021 from $7.2 million to $7.4 million.

Where this charity’s financials differ from most, not even to begin discussing its purpose, is that as of 2021 AMDA has $32.5 million in assets, up from $28 million the year before, with over $10 million of that being in cash or cash equivalents. Were it not for JobKeeper, its large cash reserves would still be large but not quite so large. 

With all this cash, one would think that AMDA could weather any storm. Not so, according to the board which includes not one but two former chiefs of the Australian Navy, a former chief of Army and Air Force and a former CEO of Lockheed Martin Australia, who decided to take JobKeeper payments.

That’s right, over 2020 and 2021 AMDA took $1.2 million in JobKeeper payments, $870,000 in 2021 and $360,000 in 2020. 

In the same period the total remuneration to the key management personnel of the charity, people such as the CEO and the board members, was $1.5 million and $1.4 million respectively.

Despite the fact that this is public money, AMDA has refused to comment on whether it will be returning the taxpayer subsidies it took to line the coffers of its charity while increasing executive pay.

Embedded with the activists

The activists protesting outside the arms fair are up against a powerful foe, and they know it.

While protesting under the banner of Disrupt Land Forces, a campaign organised under the flag of activist organisation Wage Peace, the activists are reluctant to claim that they are a part of any organisation at all. It’s more of a community, they say.

Most protesters are wary of the media and wish to remain anonymous. There are members of more ‘‘hardcore’’ organisations such as Extinction Rebellion and Blockade Australia, 12 of which were arrested last June during civil action related to climate change.

On Tuesday morning, around 50 or so of the protesters gathered outside the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre entrance where a rally received moderate media attention from SBS and Channels 10 and Seven. 

These media outlets were really only interested in the Greens politicians, led by Senator  David Shoebridge, who briefly talked to the activists before clearing off. The cameras then left with them, leaving the activists to the rest of the weeks activities. 

Depending on who you ask, the goal of the protesters is to either meaningfully decrease the attendance of the conference or increase the cost of putting it on……………………………………………………..

A likely Coalition

Many of the protesters have been involved in activism for decades, such as Margie Pestorius, a spokesperson for Wage Peace who has been protesting since the late 1980s.

“I was part of the Melbourne Rainforest Action Group [MRAG] at its height in 1989. We blockaded ships carrying Malaysian rainforest timber threatening the livelihoods and lives of the Indigenous Penan and the ecosystems they had nurtured and lived with.”


Pestorius has since pivoted to anti-militarism activism, which lacks the same support as environmental causes here in Australia.

Among the protesters are Aunty Sue Haseldine, Indigenous elder from Kokatha country who has had to deal with the fallout of atomic weapons testing in her country. Now she has learnt that Souther Launch, an Australian space company who has “aligning their business goals with defence industry priorities” according to Thales will be testing on her land once again.

Aunty Sue says she will refuse to leave if testing goes ahead “If they’re going to destroy heritage then they’re going to destroy me too. That country out there is our church, our school, our spirituality, our pharmacy. It is shameful to know that these weapons will be tested on our country which will then be used to commit atrocities across the world” she told a crowd outside Thales’ office in Brisbane.

Uncle George Dimara from West Papua also spoke outside Thales, decrying the use of Australian-built Thales Bushmasters being used by Indonesian forces in West Papua.

Others include members from Teachers for Peace, a group of Australian teachers who are pushing back against what they see as the encroachment of defence industry spending in the education sector.

The protests lack the wide-scale support seen in the environmental movement such as the thousands strong marches that have taken place in Australia’s major cities over the past few years, but that doesn’t mean these activists are dismayed.

According to Adrian Heaney, a spokesperson for Wage Peace, “these protests have demonstrated our commitment to resisting the profit-fuelled arms race enabled by institutions like Land Forces. Arms fairs of this kind in Australia have been stopped before by people power—it’s our responsibility to continue this tradition. There is no time left for more murder, more destruction. We need collaboration, not more conflict.”  https://michaelwest.com.au/what-do-you-think-the-arms-trade-is-a-charity-actually-yes-thats-what-it-is/

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