What is State Capture?

In 2022, Australian Democracy Network released an incredible report that not only defines state capture in an easy-to-understand way, but provides concrete examples of how it operates in an Australian context.

Of particular relevance to the peace movement is the case study provided on the arms industry (p51). The industry’s practice of “STEM-Washing” in education is mentioned on p52.

You can read and download the report as a pdf here.

Some of the reports key points which are relevant to our work at Teachers for Peace are summarised below, with some of our own commentary and explanatory notes added.

We are grateful to Australian Democracy Network for this important piece of work.

Key Points:

  • The arms industry uses a variety of methods to influence Government decisions for it’s own benefits. These methods produce a variety of anti-democratic outcomes.
  • The industry is more likely to use “back room” methods of state capture, rather than those which seek to manipulate public opinion directly. This is because their main customer is the Government, so brand recognition among ordinary people is not their priority. That said, they do use strategies designed to create a favourable impression of the defence forces and conflate the private corporations who manufacture defence equipment with the defence forces themselves, which are state institutions. This blurring of the line between private and public is a hallmark of successful state capture, and is further evidenced in our background briefing.
  • Job creation is central to the pro-defence narrative, painting a picture of bright, young Australians going to work for dynamic Australian companies that are innovative enough to compete on the world stage, and whose success builds and strengthens our national economy. However, the vast majority of Australian defence contracts are awarded to “the primes” – foreign-owned transnational companies worth tens of billions of dollars. Australian defence companies tend to be bought by one of these transnationals once they establish any sort of significance in a market. Industry contacts inform us that among Australian companies, being bought out by a prime is seen as having “made it”.
  • Australia’s “procurement plans” – i.e. what military equipment they intend to buy over the next several years – are described as “ambitious” as compared with other countries. This is related to Australia’s Defence Export Strategy. The state is seeking to support the industry to grow by increasing domestic demand for weapons. This has nothing to do with security, it is simply being undertaken to provide more business opportunities to arms manufacturers. Few industries enjoy this much active assistance from the state to make profit.
  • The 2016 Defence White Paper declared that the arms industry was a “fundamental input to capacity”. Awarding it this status provides a frame that conflates the ability of the weapons companies to make large amounts of profit with Australia’s national security. This in turn serves to justify the state’s active protection of the industry, and active facilitation of it’s growth, as it can be re-cast as a mechanism for maintaining “stability in the region”.
  • “Australia actively seeks increased arms sales with nations known for grievous human rights abuses” (p52). In January 2023 the ABC released an article on this topic. Detailed information regarding what weapons make their way from Australia to Indonesia can be found on the War on West Papua website.