Senator Steele-John speaks out on gunrunners’ donations to the Australian War Memorial

In Statements by Senators on 27 November, Senator Jordon Steele-John (Greens, WA) said this:

Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (13:06): The Australian War Memorial is a vital national space of learning and of reflection. It is where our community pays its respects to those who have lost their lives in conflict, shares stories with those who have survived and reflects collectively on the importance of creating a peaceful world, free from violence. Unfortunately, this greatly important role, this vital purpose, is currently being undermined by the presence within the funding for the War Memorial of the donations of corporate weapons manufacturers.

The major parties have allowed these corporate arms dealers to make donations to the War Memorial and to use this important space as nothing more than a billboard. The memorial now hosts events sponsored by these arms dealers and has even allowed BAE Systems, a British corporate weapons maker, to build a theatre within the memorial grounds in their own honour. Over time the major parties have eroded the transparency around donations to the memorial, meaning that the community now has no way of knowing how much these corporate arms dealers are donating. Our Australian War Memorial has become a space influenced by the same corporations, the very same entities, that have profited from the conflicts that took the lives of those remembered there. The only reason these corporations have the money to donate is that they profit from violent conflict. There is no other phrase for this than “blood money”. Corporate arms dealers have no place in our War Memorial. It is far past time to end their influence on this vital public space and make sure that it is transparently, fully and publicly funded.

Unlike the major parties in this place, the Greens will get corporate influence out of the War Memorial so that it can once again be the space that the community needs it to be. We will take on these corporate arms dealers and their shills here in the parliament and get their influence, once and for all, out of our War Memorial. (Page 35 of the Proof Hansard)

Senator Steele-John’s statement picks up a theme touched on often on the Honest History site over a number of years. Use our Search engine with terms like ‘arms’, ‘donations’, and ‘gunrunners’. (The last is a term used by members of the Australian Defence Force. It indicates the ambivalent relationship between service people and their suppliers: can’t do without the stuff but don’t really have much time for the folks who flog it.)

Other commentators have spoken out also. This was former senior Australian public servant, John Menadue, writing in 2017:

With their global power and influence the arms manufacturers are winning in their struggle to keep the US and its allies like Australia continually at war. That is not what the founders of the AWM intended.

At the opening of the AWM in 1941 the Governor General Lord Gowrie said the Memorial would be “not only a record of the splendid achievements of the men who fought and fell … but also a reminder to future generations of the barbarity and futility of modern war”.

Brendan Nelson should take stock. The AWM has lost its way.

2 December 2019


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