In the 1930s, textile workers in Geelong knew war was approaching when mills were given secret orders to begin producing larger quantities of khaki clothing.
In the 1940s, local factories were brought under government direction and allocation of labour strictly organised to see that War Production could be carried out at maximum capacity.
The Industrial Harvester site in North Shore was temporarily converted into a “secret” base for the Fourth Air Depot Group of the United States’ Army Fifth Air Force and the Ford factory produced a wide range of products including military vehicles, guns and sea mines.
In the 1950s, fear of the bomb and recognition that the first half of the twentieth century had seen death and destruction on an unprecedented scale led to popular support for disarmament.
Though similar efforts had been attempted following the First World War and in the years immediately prior to the Second, it was not until after the Cold War began that the clergy, communist groups, labour organisations, mothers groups and workers of middle class occupations (such as doctors, teachers and scientists) began to come together en masse to push the issue of world peace.
Similar responses and coalitions were seen in the 1960s and 1970s against the Vietnam War and more recently in the early 2000s against the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Although wars and violence continue, as with Australia’s involvement in them, the nation’s attitude towards war has changed for the better and we now seek more peaceful resolutions to conflict wherever possible.
With this in mind one must surely ask why Darren Lyons aims to put Geelong on a war footing in an attempt to revive the local economy. Ever the showman, Lyons was content to dress up and play soldier for the cameras but in doing so he disguised the morbid and true outcome of such a plan: that to survive, Geelong must produce machines for war and machines for killing.
Defence contracts are lucrative and the trappings that accompany them are often impressive. After all, how many other companies get to have helicopter-based incursion teams run mock exercises at the local park when promoting their businesses? But, realistically speaking, defence contracts are a short term and uncertain solution to the need to provide lifetimes of employment for local workers and their products are ultimately destructive.
When the tariffs that sustained much of Australia’s secondary industries began to be rolled back during Gough Whitlam’s Prime Ministership, the suggestion was made to retool the factories to be socially productive and tailored to the needs of the local economy. Knowing that automobile manufacturing would likely be unsustainable without protection, Whitlam and Ralph Willis urged that factories be moved to producing vehicles for public transport, a move that would not only ensure long-term and ongoing employment but also assist efforts to manage growing cities and populations.
Now more than ever there is a need for greater public transport in Victoria, productive and profitable industries and employment for manufacturing workers. The Napthine government has proven its folly in its unwillingness to abandon the East-West Toll Tunnel Link in the face of mounting evidence against the project but it still has the option to divert the $8 billion ear-marked for the project into more productive and useful ventures.
One such avenue might be the proposed Melbourne Metro tunnel, which has been estimated to cost between $7 and 11 billion dollars and was recognised as one of Australia’s top infrastructure priorities by Infrastructure Australia. This stands in stark contrast with the East-West Link which was heavily criticised by Infrastructure Australia during recent Senate hearings.
Another option of direct benefit to Geelong would be the restoration of passenger services between Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. A recent report indicated this would cost around $1 billion to finance and as well as decentralising public transport for regional Victoria, it would prove an excellent opportunity to revitalise local train manufacturing and rail maintenance services. Linking these cities together will allow for greater economic and cultural exchange and will connect smaller towns with resources that otherwise will have been confined to the city.
With a Liberal Party Mayor, Premier and Prime Minister one would hope that all levels of government in Geelong could work together to find a constructive and long-term solution to Geelong’s economic problems. Defence contracts may sound impressive but if the Mayor wishes to play boy soldiers he should do it on his own time. Instead, the priority should be on moving towards socially constructive production that caters to local needs and that will provide employment for generations to come.