Disarm Clash on AUU Board
Words by Daniel Neser
Tuesday’s AUU Board meeting saw a significant debate about the future direction of the University and the role of student unions. Activists from the Disarm Adelaide Uni campaign sought to win the Union to opposing all University connections with the defence industry.
With government funding per student bottoming out (the latest government cuts to unis will leave Adelaide Uni $53m worse off), university administrations are using this situation as ammunition for their campaign to enmesh themselves in the defence industry, and our vice-chancellor Peter Rathjen is one of the most enthusiastic. The Australian military build-up since WWII is, in his words, a “golden opportunity” for funding.
His latest plans for the University include attempting to lure government and industry support to transform the old Royal Adelaide Hospital (oRAH) site into a military technology hub. Already he has invited Dassault Systémes, a French arms manufacturer, to have campus space and offices at our North Terrace campus.
One of the programs the Uni has already signed onto is BAE Systems’ Joint Open Innovation Network (JOIN). BAE is the third largest weapons manufacturer in the world and their weapons, jets and missiles furnish the biggest armies of the world. Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Red Cross hospitals in Yemen, the delivery systems of France’s nuclear arsenal, the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet: all brought to you by BAE.
The Disarm Adelaide University and Books not Bombs campaigns are calling time on this. We’re battling to end these disgraceful links and fight for independent unis whose focus should be on education, rather than supporting arms dealers and the military through research and graduate programs.
At Tuesday night’s meeting of the Adelaide University Union Board, we were successful in getting the student union to support the national Books Not Bombs campaign.
Outrageously, the Activate, Unite, Progress, and Swipe Right directors of the Board opposed motions calling for an end to Uni and BAE Systems collaboration, and condemning the VCs oRAH proposal. These were tangible concrete demands on this campus, and in the case of the oRAH proposal, called on the University to instead support something useful for students such as subsidised student accommodation. Only Left Action Board Director Jack Crawford supported these proposals.
His opponents’ key argument was that the AUU Board has a precedent of being apolitical. But what is the point of student representation if not to take positions and defend students’ interests against those opposed to it? If the current international tensions do boil over, if a Trump-led war is joined by Australia, and the weapons Adelaide Uni helped design and build end up murdering civilians for the military ambitions of warhawks, will being apolitical still be carried as a point of pride? Will the defence of those Board members be “we were just following precedent”?
It is worth saying that the deciding votes on these concrete proposals were in the hands of those representing the Labor Party, of both left (Activate) and right (Unite). Maybe, just maybe, it is easy to claim the “apolitical” excuse to cover for the fact that Labor’s Shadow Minister for Defence Richard Marles, if anything, thinks the Liberals are not militaristic enough. He’s addressed the National Press Club to emphasise the absolute need to have a globally dominant domestic defence industry.
We need student unions that will stand up against both militarist uni managements and parties dedicated to the defence industry.
If the AUU Board were to get behind these proposals with its extensive resources relative to the smaller and poorer SRC, it would be an important warning to the VC, and help to say that an alternative to militarisation is possible. Refusing to do so strengthens the VC. That’s the implications of being apolitical: you end up leaving the status quo intact, and leave yourself open to attacks from administrations and governments. We need to take a clear side.
Daniel Neser is the current National Union of Students State Education Officer.
For students and staff who are opposed to militarism on our campus, get involved and like the Facebook page Disarm Adelaide University for more updates. Follow the National Union of Students’ Books Not Bombs page for national updates.