The federal government has provided tens of millions of dollars to a local weapons manufacturer selling arms to Saudi Arabia while failing to ensure weapons exports are not used in the Yemeni civil war. The ABC reported on Wednesday that defence minister Christopher Pyne provided $36 million in government assistance to Electro Optics Systems, a weapons systems manufacturer that has signed a contract to deliver 500 mobile weapons mounting platforms to the Saudi ministry of the interior. The US House of Representatives voted last week to end American military assistance to Saudi Arabia, based on documented human rights abuses by Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces. Australian defence department official Tom Hamilton told Senate estimates on Wednesday that “our assessment process is followed for each and every permit and that includes an assessment of the overriding risk that they’ll be used in human rights abuses”. Greens leader Richard Di Natale replied: “Doesn’t help the four-year-old kid who had their leg blown off.”
Former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane will use a major speech today to accuse the federal government of “seeking to incite hysteria about asylum seekers and border security”. Delivering the John Curtin lecture at Curtin University in Perth later today, Soutphommasane will warn that “we must prepare ourselves for a potential race election”, involving “more naked and blatant appeals to racism and division”. Soutphommasane will hit out at media outlets “seeking to monetise hatred … feeding off the resentments of those in the majority who feel they are losing their position of power and privilege”. Soutphommasane clashed with the government during his tenure as race discrimination commissioner over failed attempts to abolish section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Outgoing industrial relations minister Kelly O’Dwyer has warned of the polarising effects of social media and “tribal echo chambers” on public debate. In her valedictory speech to parliament on Wednesday, O’Dwyer said she had noticed “a failure to listen to alternative ideas and a decline in genuine policy debate and civil discourse” during her time in office. In his valedictory speech on Tuesday, former treasurer Wayne Swan hit out at the “American race-based dog whistle politics” that has permeated Australian public life, pointing to the 2001 Tampa crisis as the moment when “the politics of fear drowned out domestic political issues”.
And British conspiracy theorist David Icke has been banned from entering the country, torpedoing a planned national speaking tour in March. A Holocaust denier and September 11 “truther”, Icke has gathered a following for his pronouncements that the world is controlled by a secretive organisation of alien, shape-shifting lizards, many of whom are apparently Jewish. The government has cancelled the visas of several high-profile figures in recent years, including three US speakers, the whistleblower Chelsea Manning, racist agitator Gavin McInnes and rape apologist Julien Blanc.