Stephens, David: War Memorial picks up ‘small change’ donations from military industries

David Stephens*

‘War Memorial picks up “small change” donations from military industries’, Honest History, 28 January 2020 updated

Over the years, Honest History has closely followed the donations the Australian War Memorial receives from the military industries, the manufacturers of the weapons and vehicles of war. These are  the companies known colloquially to some members of the Australian Defence Force as ‘gunrunners’.

The latest arms sales report from the authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) allows us to make comparisons with the most recent information from the War Memorial about the donations it receives. In summary, seven out of the top ten arms companies in the world have been recent donors to the Memorial.


Top arms producing and military services companies in the world, 2018 (all of them donors to the Australian War Memorial in recent years)

Rank 2018 Company Country Value of arms sales Some products
1 Lockheed Martin United States $US 47.3 billion Combat aircraft, combat vessels, ballistic missiles, mission systems, electronic warfare
2 Boeing United States $US 29.2 billion Combat aircraft, drones, missiles
3 Northrop Grumman United States $US 26.2 billion Missiles, missile defence, drones, military aircraft, military vessels
4 Raytheon United States $US 23.4 billion Missiles, drone systems
5 General Dynamics United States $US 22.0 billion Aerospace, land warfare systems, shipbuilding
6 BAE Systems United Kingdom $US 21.2 billion Combat aircraft, munitions, land warfare systems
10 Thales France $US 9.5 billion Missiles, radar, remote weapons systems

Sources: Australian War Memorial Annual Report 2017-18 and earlier reports; ‘The SIPRI Top 100 arms-producing and military services companies, 2018’. See also: information about earlier years. Plus this about the Memorial’s evasions in answering parliamentary questions on this subject. Check SIPRI for later years.


We do not have complete information about annual donations from these companies to the Memorial but we can make some comparisons between donations and value of sales. For example, Lockheed Martin’s value of arms sales of $US 47.3 billion in calendar 2018 compared with its donations to the Memorial in 2017-18 of a little more than $200 000, while Thales’ 2018 arms sales of $US 9.5 billion compared with donations of just $30 000 in 2017-18 (and this despite Director Nelson being a member of the Thales Australia Advisory Board). That’s donations at about 0.0005 per cent of value of arms sales for Lockheed and 0.0003 per cent for Thales.

These comparisons show that, while the Memorial is prepared to tout shamelessly for money from the gunrunners, the companies themselves spend relatively very little on their relationships with the Memorial. Whatever public relations benefits the companies receive from their donations are at a cost to them which amounts to no more than small change.

Update 20 December 2020: Here’s the War Memorial’s opinion on what donors get from their donation, given in an answer to Senator Steele-John: mutual benefits to the Memorial and donors (A0358). From Estimates Commitee Hansards. And an evasive answer on current arrangements with donors as at early 2020 (A0362).

For earlier reports on the Memorial and arms companies, use our Search engine with the search term ‘arms’. See particularly this post, which has sales figures for earlier years and links to other material.

2016-10-mena-yemen-funeral-03Aftermath of Saudi raid on Sanaa, Yemen, October 2016 (The Hill). The Saudi-led coalition uses products from BAE, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, all donors to the Australian War Memorial.

Military industry donations to the War Memorial are an aspect of what we have called ‘the military-industrial-commemorative complex’, which Mike Seccombe wrote about recently in The Saturday Paper. See also this recent post on the appointment of former Memorial Director, Brendan Nelson, to a senior job with arms company, Boeing.

In future years, it will be difficult to make these comparisons because of changes to the Department of Finance rules for departmental annual reports. This is regrettable from an accountability point of view, but will no doubt be welcomed by the Memorial.

Update 1 April 2022: Memorial response to Senate Estimates Question from Senator Steele-John (Question No. 179). Pdf. Carefully worded.

Update 28 April 2022: Latest information from SIPRI on world arms trade: December 2021; April 2022.

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website. For his other posts, use our Search engine. Related and recent is this piece by David Stephens in Pearls & Irritations on the Brendan Nelson legacy at the Australian War Memorial and this by Michelle Fahy in Pearls & Irritations on the revolving door between the defence forces and arms companies, as well as the promotional efforts by government to ensure Australian arms products get sold overseas.

Click here for all items related to: ,
To comment or discuss, Log in to Honest History.
One comment on “Stephens, David: War Memorial picks up ‘small change’ donations from military industries
  1. Leighton View says:

    What a tangled (and damaging) web “we” do create when first “we” strive to profit (and profit immensely) off the worst aspects of existence. It is a moral choice which faces everyone who sits down and thinks of investing. Do I support something that just makes money (no matter what the source of its profits)? or do I actually consider what impact my money will have (no matter how small).

    To profit off an activity which leads to untold numbers of deaths, no matter the justifications, and then to eulogise those who have died as a result would seem to be the height of self-serving hypocrisy.

    To be trained as a medical doctor (“do no harm”, etc.), then pontificate over such hypocritical commemoration, and then go off and be paid to promote yet more of the same (a la the career of Brendan Nelson) … leads to words failing. Think perhaps Dante would have had a special ring created for just such a person.

Leave a Reply