Australia's drones ambitions must be tempered with far greater transparency and safeguards

If Australia wants to pursue its own military drone program, far greater levels of transparency and rigorous safeguards are absolutely essential, the Human Rights Law Centre will tell the Senate's Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee during its inquiry into Australia's potential purchase of its own drones.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said given Australia’s current role in the USA’s covert and deadly drone program, the public should be wary of any ambitions the Australian Government has to have its own armed drones.

“There are credible reports that Australia is already intimately involved in the covert US drone strikes through the joint military facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs. These drone strikes have been shrouded in secrecy and significant numbers of civilians have been killed. Our Government hasn't even been willing to come clean about its role in the US drone program, so the prospect of it pursuing its own drones program is deeply troubling,” said Ms Howie.

Although it’s understandable that Australia would want to capitalise on some of the opportunities that drone technologies present, such as surveillance, Ms Howie said the use of weaponised drones open up a Pandora’s box of legal and ethical considerations.

“Because drones can be deployed in secret, with little or no transparency or accountability, the risk of violating international law is high. There is significant concern that drone strikes are disproportionately and unlawfully killing civilians, including children. These are not things Australia should be rushing to embrace,” said Ms Howie.

Whilst accepting that there’s nothing inherently wrong with drone technology in itself, Ms Howie said the way armed drones have increasingly been used, was likely to violate international law. Since the inauguration of President Obama in 2009, it's estimated that the USA has killed an estimated 2,500 people in covert drone strikes.

“There are going to be problems with any military operation conducted behind an impenetrable veil of secrecy. If Australia decides to acquire drones, then it will be absolutely vital to introduce transparent and rigorous safeguards to ensure international law is upheld,” said Ms Howie.

The HRLC will make a number of recommendations in its submission and will urge the Committee members to request that the Government 'comes clean' about its current role in the USA’s drone program.

“If we’re going to have a genuine debate, then the Government should put its cards on the table; what kind of assistance exactly are we providing to the USA’s deadly drone program? The Australian public have a right to know the facts before the Government takes us further down this troublesome path,” said Ms Howie.

The HRLC's written submission can be found here.

 Related: Australia needs to be transparent on armed dronesAustralia may be complicit in killing its own citizens and many others

For further information or comments, please contact:
Emily Howie on +61 (0)421 370 997 or via