Words by Nix Herriot
“More relationships with defence than any other university in Australia.” So boasts Christopher Pyne, Minister for Defence Industry and chief proponent of Abbott-era $100,000 university degrees. He’s declaring his fondness for the University of Adelaide’s extensive militarisation. On our campuses, war is more immediate than we might imagine.
Kevin Scarce, Chancellor of Adelaide University, epitomises the intimate connections that bond governments, corporations, the military and education. Scarce is a retired Rear Admiral in the Australian Navy and the former head of Maritime Systems for the Defence Materiel Agency. As well as ensuring the $6 billion construction of air warfare destroyers in South Australia, Scarce more recently championed Jay Weatherill’s discredited international nuclear waste dump.
The Federal Government is orchestrating the largest military build-up since the Second World War. Central to the 2016 Defence White Paper was a commitment to boosting the Defence budget by 81% over the next decade and recruiting 4400 new personnel for the Defence Force. This January, Malcolm Turnbull announced Australia’s intention to become one of the ten largest weapons exporters in the world. After cutting $2.2 billion from higher education, Turnbull had no qualms about committing $3.8 billion to local weapons manufacturers. Defence is the number one research partner of Adelaide University. Last November, Pyne applauded the university administration for negotiating 157 agreements worth $13 million since mid-2014. After being treated to a drone demonstration, Pyne went on to explain that his government’s Defence and Innovation Network would see military researchers implanted in 21 research fields across Adelaide University.
In the context of militarisation, Adelaide University has been determined to bolster national defence capabilities. Earlier this year, the Director of Defence and Security at Adelaide University, Michael Webb, declared an intention to “do whatever we can to collaborate” with the defence industry. In March, Vice-Chancellor Peter Rathjen announced that the University will work alongside the world’s third largest arms producer, BAE Systems, to enhance Australian military infrastructure. $10 million was pledged by BAE to develop defence-centred courses and research. BAE warplanes are vital to Saudi Arabia’s onslaught on Yemen. The company is also a manufacturer of nuclear weapons and complicit in arming the Israeli regime and its attacks on Palestinians.
The militarisation of university campuses is occurring concurrently with major changes to the national tertiary system and research capacities. Over the past several years, government cuts have significantly undermined options for funding and graduate opportunities that don’t have military ties. The CSIRO’s three offices on Adelaide University campuses have suffered debilitating cuts. At Waite, 13 staff were cut from CSIRO Land and Water research. The SAHMRI CSIRO offices of Nutrition and Health lost eight staff in 2016. Instead of being able to offer internships or employment for science graduates, CSIRO defunding has led to cutting one in five staff nationally (over the past five years) and increasingly limited graduate places and research crossover with universities. The systematic reduction in non-military education and research funding has led to this false scarcity of funding, creating the impetus for intensifying the extent of university and defence connections.
Seeking to sanitise war profiteering, governments and university administrations would have us believe that increasing ties with defence is all about creating jobs. For our rulers, war is good for business. For the rest of us, it means a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe. Money diverted to defence means money ripped from industries that improve human lives. Persistent government attacks on jobs have contributed to South Australia being the defence state. Other jobs should be created. Let’s start with large-scale investment in education, renewable energy, hospitals and public housing. Militarising universities isn’t about improving graduate jobs. It’s about boosting an industry of death, escalating Australian imperialism and restructuring campuses to be conducive to corporate interests.
We shouldn’t be surprised that universities are increasingly tied to the war machine. Higher education is integral to the realisation of the government’s military ambitions. A further military build-up will require research that develops military technology and graduates skilled for the defence industry. Students and staff should reject the intensifying ties between universities, weapons industries and the military. Adelaide University sings the praises of “innovative technologies” and “world-class research”. Let’s call military connections out for what they really are: institutional backing for the merchants of death. The investments of this university should not be blood money that contributes to weaponry and war. We need books, not bombs.