It is a national pastime to ponder the question: what are Australian values?
I have a similar question for the current government: What does the Australian government value and does that align with its citizens?
Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, our government appears to value money over people’s lives, as we are now willing to sell arms to one of the most brutal coalitions operating on the planet.
Are we really a country that values profits more than protecting innocent children, women and men from being slaughtered?
Amnesty International Australia and its hundreds of thousands of supporters believes the answer is no.
Australians want better from our government than that. There is inconsistency in Australia’s new position on the United Nations Human Rights Council, its commitments to upholding human rights and the global arms trade treaty, and what appears to be a grubby money grab. We believe that we are owed an explanation from our government about what deals it is doing in our name.
The ABC has reported that Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne discussed potential arms deals with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan at Parliament House yesterday.
That is the same United Arab Emirates committing appalling human rights abuses as a Saudi-led coalition partner in the war in Yemen. Since March 2015, the coalition has conducted scores of unlawful airstrikes hitting schools, hospitals, markets and homes, killing tens of thousands of civilians.
There is extensive evidence that the irresponsible flow of arms have led to these deaths: the airstrikes have been documented by Amnesty International, the United Nations and others. Many are likely war crimes.
A recent UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning the ongoing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Yemen reflects growing international outrage at the actions of all parties to the conflict.
So Christopher Pyne meeting the UAE Foreign Minister to talk arms deals is a chilling turn of events.
Back in July last year, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said he was looking to increase Australia’s weapons exports to the United Arab Emirates, among other target markets. At the time, Amnesty raised a big red flag.
And in January this year Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he wanted Australia to become one of the world’s top 10 arms exporters to target markets including the Middle East.
We raised a red flag then too, asking, who exactly are we contemplating selling arms to?
This latest news also makes Amnesty International see red.
The Australian government has consistently ignored calls and concerns around the lack of transparency and immorality of Australia’s arms trade.
Amnesty International has consistently and repeatedly called for the Australian government to provide transparency around its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and its coalition partners such as the United Arab Emirates.
The Australian government has consistently and repeatedly refused to provide that information.
Australia prides itself as a leader in the successful negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013.
What could possibly have changed in Australian values since then?
In the space of a few short years, we now find ourselves at grave risk of being complicit in war crimes by selling arms to the United Arab Emirates.
As a global arms control leader, it is appalling that Australia would contemplate expanding arms exports to the UAE, while they are part of a Saudi-led Coalition annihilating men, women and children in Yemen.
Australia is obliged under the Arms Trade Treaty not to authorise weapons transfers to countries where there is an overriding risk these weapons could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.
Exporting arms to the United Arab Emirates clearly poses just such a risk.
Our government needs to fully inform the Australian people about the intention behind, and the operation of, our arms trade.
The Australian government risks having blood on its hands if it allows Australian companies to profit from the slaughter of innocent men, women and children.
And that would be the opposite of everything Australians value.