Fahy, Michelle: LobbyLand ‘culture of cosiness’: colossal conflicts of interest in Defence spending blitz

Michelle Fahy

LobbyLand “culture of cosiness”: colossal conflicts of interest in Defence spending blitz, Pearls and Irritations, 13 October 2020 updated

On corporate influence on government policy and how weapons makers cultivate relationships with politicians and top officials in the public service. Looks at defence industry export strategy, conflicts of interest in the sector, ‘revolving door’ arrangements between the Australian Defence Force and defence bureaucrats and arms manufacturers, potential for corruption, media blind eyes.

Cases mentioned include Christopher Pyne, Julie Bishop, Stephen Smith, Brendan Nelson, Linda Reynolds, and Duncan Lewis. Jim McDowell is a case of the revolving door in reverse, a movement from the arms industry to senior level in government.

Australia is far too lax about managing conflicts of interest, the revolving door between public life and industry, and other forms of undue influence. It is a problem in any domain of government, but it is particularly dangerous gap in the big spending, sensitive areas of defence and national security.

When respected senior leaders leave public service for the military industry, they take with them extensive contacts, deep institutional knowledge, and rare and privileged access to the highest levels of government, both in Australia and internationally. Their presence on the board of an influential industry corporation entrenches the influence of the weapons industry on government decision-making. Such moves increase the risk that the public interest is conflated with corporate interests.

This is Part 1 of three. Part 2 looks at the corrupt history of the French Naval Group, manufacturing our submarines.

The arms company at the centre of a deadly criminal saga and numerous global corruption scandals, Naval Group, was selected by the Australian government to build our new fleet of submarines – a deal heralded as ‘one of the world’s most lucrative defence contracts‘. How did this happen?

Part 3 is about how arms manufacturers link up with worthy causes, gleaning brownie points for community mindedness at very little cost to their bottom lines.

A Lockheed missile blows up a bus full of Yemeni children; in Australia Lockheed Martin gains kudos by sponsoring the National Youth Science Forum. BAE Systems sponsors underprivileged kids in Australia while being complicit in the killing of thousands of needy children in Yemen. All you see in industry marketing pitches is euphemism, with nary a mention of the word “weapons”.

This piece reminds us that the ‘culture’ that normalises unnecessary military involvements, that sanitises how we promote and commemorate them, and that makes heroes out of men and women who are as much victims, is also the culture that apparently sees nothing wrong with gunrunners picking up kudos by donating tiny proportions of their revenue to worthy causes

For other related work by Michelle Fahy use our Honest History Search engine and the Search function on the Pearls & Irritations site. Use our Search also with the search terms ‘arms’ and ‘gunrunners’ to find other material on the subjects raised in Fahy’s articles.

Update 7 December 2021: Dechlan Brennan in Pearls & Irritations asks why Australia still sells arms to Saudi Arabia.



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