Australia’s special military forces will enjoy an additional $3 billion in funding over the next two decades as part of the government’s commitment to spending 2 percent of GDP on “defence” by 2021. The combined military will receive an extra $200 billion in funding over the next 10 years. This is the largest increase in defence funding outside of war since the colonisation of Australia. Labor has gone on record supporting the increase.
In the 2019-20 budget, defence was allocated $32.24 billion. Compare this to government schools, allocated $8.3 billion, or the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which has been underfunded by $1.6 billion. Or the less than half a billion that will be spent on youth mental health and suicide prevention, despite the shocking rise in the number of Indigenous children killing themselves over the past year.
The boost for the SAS – the special operations section of the Australian Defence Force – was announced as an inquiry into the misconduct of Australian special forces during the war in Afghanistan continued in Kabul this month. Defence spokespeople have steadfastly refused to comment on the investigation, which began in 2016. But hundreds of pages of internal defence documents leaked to the ABC provide some insights into the atrocities committed by Australian troops.
The “Afghan Files” contain formal reports of at least 10 incidents in which SAS soldiers unlawfully shot and killed children and unarmed men. The problems became so widespread that senior officers warned that the SAS had developed a dangerous “warrior culture”. Internal investigators also described soldiers as “desensitised” and experiencing a “drift in values”.
In one incident, a 13-year-old boy fetching water from a well was shot in the back of the neck. Another report detailed an unarmed man and his 6-year-old son being killed by SAS soldiers during a house raid.
The initial response to these crimes from the top brass in the defence hierarchy was to issue a series of memos instructing soldiers to make sure Afghans were “directly participating in hostilities” before shooting them. The Morrison government’s response to these atrocities has been to reward the SAS with an extra $3 billion to buy new killing machines and body armour, which can only make them feel even more like invincible warriors.
For those who are battling to survive on Newstart payments that are below the poverty line, there is no such boost in sight. Morrison described the $277.85 a week Newstart allowance as “modest” and said last month that he had no plans to engage in “unfunded empathy”. By contrast, Morrison described his $3 billion boost to SAS funding as “one of the most important investments that I can make as a prime minister ... to keep Australians safe”.
A recent Australian Council of Social Service report found that 30 percent of those trying to survive on Newstart skip three or four meals per week. A $75 per week increase to Newstart would cost $3 billion. The failure of both sides of politics to raise the rate of Newstart, while giving bipartisan support to a massive expansion of military funding, is not an oversight or a mistake. Barbarity is built right into the system. People have value only insofar as they help make the rich richer, by either working or advancing the interests of the capitalist class through imperialist war. Rewarding cruelty while refusing to provide housing or food to keep unemployed people safe is second nature for a government that presides over such a sick system.