For the first three days of June, thousands of engineers, public servants and business moguls involved in the global arms trade packed the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre for the Land Forces 2021 exhibition.
The gathering didn’t pass without opposition. Speakers at a protest on the opening morning included Aboriginal activist Samuel Woripa Watson and Greens MP for South Brisbane Amy McMahon.
Our message was clear: no war, and no money for war. Speeches and chants opposed the current drive towards conflict with China and expressed solidarity with peoples under occupations that are aided by the weapons produced by Land Forces attendees, such as Palestinians and West Papuans. We chanted for refugee rights, because the same people barracking for war torture those displaced by conflict. We demanded that the vast wealth allocated for the military be redirected to social necessities: money for health and education, not for weapons corporations.
Some war criminals scurried into the convention centre behind police escorts. Others made a point of barging through protesters. On one occasion, a group of attendees passed members of Socialist Alternative, who were holding a previous edition of Red Flag bearing the cover “Afghanistan: a criminal war”. They paused and laughed, “That’s us!”
Police behaviour ranged from befuddled to aggressive. The opening morning’s protest marched despite police opposition, and a few dozen people briefly stormed a cafe in which Land Forces attendees were gathered. Some comedians from the Chaser revealed a certain lax security attitude by getting inside the conference despite displaying a QR code that linked not to a Land Forces ticket, but to the Chaser website.
Also on the first day, a protester had a tooth knocked out during an arrest. On the second day, campaigners from the group Disrupt Land Forces protested inside the conference, climbing onto a tank. All were arrested. Among the array of charges was “entry with intent to commit an indictable offence”, which carries a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment.
It’s an indication of the priorities of the cops that such excessive charges would be laid to protect weapons industry bosses from embarrassment. But activists were not deterred; the protests were considered a success. We will need more anti-war action in the future, as the drums of war beat louder.