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Byron Shire
August 1, 2021

Dear Annastacia – about Land Forces ‘21

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I recently had the fortune to visit SE Queensland over a couple of warm winter days. And very enjoyable it was, until I turned the corner at Southbank and found the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre ringed by a good cop, bad cop paramilitary force; a blue line, not a khaki one.

Land Forces ‘21 was in town (June 1–3). As a retired teacher I felt it my duty to stand with the young, so that they might have a future. An elderly Murri agreed. Clutching a wad of fifties, he demanded entrance to the weapons shop on his land. Sorry mate. Your money’s the wrong colour. Go directly to jail. While the cameras aren’t looking. Queensland, beautiful one day, horrific the next.

Denied entry I took the google trail for a look inside (Land Forces, Rheinmetall Defence, Australian Defence Magazine). Over 500 exhibitors Annastacia, your welcoming message proclaiming ‘the defence industries sector is one of the Queensland Government’s high-value, high-growth priority sectors’ and that you ‘are working with the biggest companies and the most important organisations in the world to grow the sector’. Not the UN, the WHO or any organisation committed to a sustainable peaceful future. Just good old-fashioned arms dealers flogging their wares, though, with a nod to contemporary sensibilities, one exhibitors’ vision statement promised to do this in an ‘environmentally responsible’ way.

Annastacia, let’s forgo the Orwellian gobbledygook. We’re talking about WAR industries, not defence. Australia has not been attacked by another nation’s military since 1945. The Minister for War and his corporate and departmental cronies aren’t talking survival; they’re talking about investment opportunities, guns for sale, BIG MONEY.

Perhaps in a War Office backroom there are guidelines advising who is to be killed. Maybe there’s even a budgetary outline of estimated costs per head. But that’s a Federal responsibility Annastacia. Like quarantine. Leave it to them. They’re currently Tories, Annastacia. Their home turf. Plenty of practise. Not even a parliamentary process to worry about. Just the old politics of fear, ignorance and cruelty. We will decide who we will kill, and where we shall kill them. Not your business, Annastacia. Not your business Queensland.

But you did cop the policing bill; protecting the suits as they waddled and clacked up the steps of the Convention Centres to pay homage to the Gods of War. Their money was the right colour it seemed. Not like those protesters banging on about morals and ethics, or, as the brave new words of the ‘special correspondent’ in the Australian Defence Magazine, sneered, ‘whatever rocks your world’. So much for human history. Philosophy. Endeavour.

 While you’re catching up on the ‘defence’ news, check out the graphics in the mag. Heroically determined jawlines on every page. Frankly, Annastacia, if I was looking for a hero or heroine at the Convention Centre to tell our children about, I’d be hard-pressed to go past the Quaker singing her hymns of love and peace. Judging by the watery eyes of some of the boys and girls in blue wishing they’d drawn another roster, many would agree. 

What about ‘jobs and incomes for Queenslanders’, you say Annastacia. Certainly, as a retiree with, importantly in this context, the freedom to be as curmudgeonly as I like, it’s easy for me to point the finger. I’ve had a relatively easy slog in the lucky country. But Annastacia, as well as jobs, jobs, jobs, the Labor Party that I’ve been a member of for over 50 years, is about the dignity of working people, fair wages and conditions, and the opportunity to feel pride and purpose in work. I think the majority of my countrymen and women would agree that’s still not an idle pipedream, despite the efforts of our ‘most important organisations’ to persuade us of the sovereignty of their bottom lines. Walk away from their wedge, Annastacia. Dump your ‘Queensland Government 10-year Roadmap and Action Plan’ (QGTRAP?) while you can. Direct the wealth and power of your office instead towards creating a sustainable and peaceful world, with jobs that build on the successes of our past and make every effort to rectify its mistakes.

Gazing back from the paddock, perhaps what saddens me the most Annastacia, is the way our educational institutions are being roped in and tethered to the corporate and bureaucratic world. The same institutions who are being squeezed for funds, whose vision is meant to inspire our young. TAFE Queensland CEO tells how, ‘skilling participants with the right qualifications to build sovereign capability will make Queenslanders more competitive in securing work in defence and advanced manufacturing industries’. She’s referring to a partnership between her organisation and Rheinmetall Defence Australia supporting a $5.2 billion contract in South East Queensland.

Not to be outdone, The University of Sydney (Go the Blues!) recently advertised for a ‘Director of Defence (that word again) Research’. The Essential Selection Criteria required applicants to have ‘a wide network of established relationships with key government, industry and professional institutions, partners and stakeholders that can be leveraged to enhance the standing of the University’, and a ‘successful track record of liaison between industry or government and the higher education sector’. Remember when the HR department was called Personnel and your duties didn’t involve ‘collegial governance… and fostering a culture of excellence?’ What the waddlers and clackers lining up on the steps of the Convention Centre to play corporate snakes and ladders might simply call ‘knowing where to lick’. 

But it pays well I suppose. A lot of money is at stake. A lot of jobs. And a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the workers. Fine if you’re building a hospital or a college. But weapons? Artillery shells, which Rheimetall proudly describes as being of ‘greater lethality?’ There’s an idea to inspire the children. Like ‘sovereign capability’. Rheinmetall is head-quartered in Dusseldorf and their Queensland-made products are for sale, ‘not just to the Australian Army’, but to our allies, whoever and wherever they may be. Again, in what backroom drawer are the guidelines hidden? What common values beyond the dollar are involved? Definitely not the sovereignty of life. Perhaps in today’s doublespeak, sovereignty just means anything not made in China?

Aah, for the good old days. Walk away from the wedge, Annastacia. You’re young enough to go the distance. You can still make Queensland beautiful one day. Perfect the next.

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