Our favourite new military acquisition — the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) — known affectionately as “the little turd“, and now the “jackass of all trades and masterful of none“, is the subject of a Senate inquiry in Canberra, following Canada’s withdrawal from the JSF program.

Australia bought into the program with nine other countries 14 years ago. It has not gone to plan (and that’s putting it nicely), but we’re still committed to spending $17 billion on the planes.

Labelled a “conspiracy of optimism” by senior defence analyst Andrew Davies during the inquiry, the ambitious project is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget — not to mention the overwhelming technical difficulties whereby the jet can’t actually fly, shoot or dogfight as well as it should. Oh, and then there’s the one-in-four chance the specially designed helmet will snap your neck if you weigh under 75 kilos.

Peter Goon is the head of Air Power Australia, an independent military and policy think tank, and was dismissive of the plan to acquire 72 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighters from the US, calling it a “Ponzi scheme”.

“When the product fails, recruit as many clients as you can, promote the product as loudly as you can, keep the cash flowing for as long as the market remains blind to its failure,” he told the inquiry.

So if PM Malcolm Turnbull decided not to hand over the $17 billion for the dud jets, which we may or may not get (and even if we do, they may or may not work) then what else is there that we could better spend this money on?

Here are just a few suggestions:

Indigenous Australians

In 2014, former prime Minister Tony Abbott announced a cut of $534 million from indigenous programs administered by the Prime Minister & Cabinet and Health portfolios.

So instead of fighter jets, we could give back the $3.5 million cut from the Torres Strait Regional Authority, or actually give the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples the $15 million that was earmarked for them, or the $9.5 million announced for the Indigenous Languages Support Program in the 2013 budget.

Public broadcasting

In November 2014, Malcolm Turnbull, then communications minister, announced the ABC’s budget would be cut by $254 million over the next five years, as well as cuts to SBS’ operating budget, which would be reduced by $25.2 million over the same period.

Foreign aid

Australia was the “World’s Most Generous Country” in 2012, according to the World Giving Index, but has since fallen back to 13th in the ranking, and now to 20th, following the budget announcement in 2014, which slashed AusAID to the lowest level it has been in Australian history. Australian foreign aid spending was cut by $7.6 billion over five years, and was further slashed in 2015.

But seeing as Julie Bishop wants to include the military deployments as a part of Australia’s overseas aid spending, perhaps the heavy price tag on the new fighter jets is actually a win for generosity, or maybe the government was just heeding the F-35’s in-flight safety briefing for when the oxygen mask drops: “Help yourself first before helping those around you.”

Peter Fray

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