Stephens, David: The Australian War Memorial is still doing well out of arms manufacturers – how well, we don’t quite know

David Stephens*

‘The Australian War Memorial is still doing well out of arms manufacturers – how well, we don’t quite know’, Honest History, 30 November 2017 updated

Update 13 September 2018: Senate Estimates information provides a partial update, showing $1.3 million in donations from six arms firms over three years. Update 26 October 2018: but is this information wrong, because it leaves out donations from two arms firms?

For some time now Honest History has monitored the interesting phenomenon of arms manufacturers making donations to the Australian War Memorial. Speaking out also have been Sue Wareham of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and John Menadue, former senior public servant and businessman.

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 [wrote Menadue in June 2017]. 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.

download (13)A promise of continuity from the world’s largest arms manufacturer, a donor to the Australian War Memorial (Lockheed Martin)

One can speculate whether there is an element of guilt or reparations in this cash flow from the arms industry to the Memorial. Or perhaps it is an expression of the ‘corporate responsibility’ of these companies, something which drives them to donate the equivalent of pocket money – amounts between $A20 000 and $A1 000 000 per company annually, to judge from the patchy Australian evidence available – to show they are good citizens of the countries where they trade. (An example of a corporate responsibility policy statement.)

Some people see this donation flow as quite acceptable, given that the companies make protective as well as destructive kit. This we described somewhere as ‘the OH&S justification’ for the role of the arms industry. It certainly glosses over a lot. The companies also make the sort of hi-tech weaponry and ‘platforms’ (ships and planes to the lay person) that, when sold in great and expensive amounts to the Australian Defence Force, allow our forces to integrate smoothly with those of the United States, whence much of the kit comes and whose forces are using the same gear – until it becomes obsolete and they (and therefore us) have to buy the newer model. Lots of jobs spin off, though.

Other, larger kit, like the Joint Strike Fighter and submarines, takes longer to build, making it more likely that it will be outdated before delivery. In those cases, the upside is that the donation flow from these companies to places like the War Memorial is likely to continue for many years.

The War Memorial’s Annual Report for 2016-17 differs from previous years in not categorising donors by amount of donation. (The Annual Report for 2015-16 divided donations into over $250 000, over $50 000, and over $20 000.) Total ‘donations and sponsorships’ for 2016-17 were $14.6 million (p.105), slightly down on the previous year’s $16.2 million (p. 79).

It is still possible to put together the following table showing six arms companies who donated to the Memorial in 2016-17. Most have been donors for a while; the Memorial’s theatre has for some years been called the BAE Systems Theatre. In 2015, Memorial Director Brendan Nelson was quoted as saying ‘hiring out function rooms and support from private industry enabled the memorial to do important work such as the creation of its Afghanistan exhibition’. (Boeing gave $500 000 for the Afghanistan exhibition.) More recently, the Director told John Menadue: ‘We regard it as entirely appropriate that defence contractors support the Memorial in its mission’.

The companies listed below are by value of sales the five largest arms companies in the world and the eleventh largest, which says something for the Memorial’s skills in targeting donors, or these companies’ skills in identifying worthy causes – or both. Or perhaps it is simply an example of what we have called previously the ‘military-industrial-commemorative complex’. From the point of view of the companies, this plays out as: sell lots of kit to the military and their political masters, donate a nominal amount to a commemorative institution such as the Memorial, run some other community-oriented programs, make sure the fact of the donations and community schemes are widely publicised where it counts, sell more kit to the forces, and so on it goes.

Top arms producing and military services companies in the world, 2016 (all of them donors to the Australian War Memorial in recent years)

Rank 2016 (2015) Company Country Value of arms sales Some products
1 (1) Lockheed Martin United States $US 40.8 billion Combat aircraft, combat vessels, ballistic missiles, mission systems, electronic warfare
2 (2) Boeing United States $US 29.5 billion Combat aircraft, drones, missiles
3 (4) Raytheon


United States $US 22.9 billion Missiles, drone systems
4 (3) BAE Systems United Kingdom $US 22.8 billion Combat aircraft, munitions, land warfare systems
5 (5) Northrop Grumman United States $US 21.4 billion Missiles, missile defence, drones, military aircraft, military vessels
10 (11) Thales Group France $US 8.2 billion Missiles, radar, remote weapons systems

Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), December 2017; previous year; next year.


* David Stephens is Honest History’s secretary, the editor of the Honest History website, and co-editor with Alison Broinowski of The Honest History Book.


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