OPINION: Adelaide Uni’s veneration of warmonger Alexander Downer is sickening

Words by Tom Auld

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Alexander Downer

Adelaide University, once again, cannot help itself but but fall behind some of the world’s most despicable war criminals. The decision to give right wing Liberal Party hawk, Alexander Downer, an honorary doctorate shows our university’s commitment to celebrating the rising tide of militarism in society.

Downer, as Foreign Affairs Minister under the Howard government, was a key figure in leading Australia into Iraq under the so-called “Coalition of the Willing”. In doing so, he propagated the falsehood promoted all over the Western world, that Saddam Hussein’s regime held weapons of mass destruction, as a means of justifying the war. Behind closed doors however, Downer was much more honest about Australian ambitions. A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade record of conversation showed that Downer suggested that “Australia’s commercial position in Iraq” would benefit from intervention and regime change.

Despite the fact that his public justification was totally baseless, the invasion and subsequent occupation lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths at the hands of the United States and its allies. Beyond the immediate casualties, the intervention into Iraq, and Afghanistan previously, has further destabilised a region purely for the pursuit of Western interests.

Alexander Downer has proved himself a tireless fighter for Australian imperial ambitions much closer to home, however. In 2003, he signed an agreement essentially robbing East Timor of up to $50 billion dollars of oil and gas reserves. Australia, being a dominant power in the Asia Pacific region, has never shied away from doing whatever necessary to impose its interests on weaker regional powers. Downer follows in a long line of Australian politicians who have seen to this and denied any agency to our weaker neighbouring states. In regards to East Timor, this goes back to initially backing Indonesia’s Suharto regime in attempting to crush the East Timor independence movement.

It should be no surprise that Adelaide University wishes to celebrate a figure such as Downer. Last year, the university rolled out the red carpet for our most recent Foreign Affairs Minister, the equally despicable Julie Bishop. More fundamentally however, the university has no problem with militarism. Adelaide University similarly hosts companies such as BAE Systems to engage in research for the Australian Navy’s Jindalee Operational Radar Network. Dassault Systems, a company which has served the Defence Industry for over 30 years, now has an office on the North Terrace campus and shamefully, our vice-chancellor Peter Rathjen has recently proposed that the Old Royal Adelaide Hospital site should be used for weapons research.

This honorary doctorate is symbolic of the way in which our university wishes to tie itself to Australia’s imperial ambitions and, more locally, the South Australian arms industry. Perhaps most damning about the whole thing however, is that this comes about just as Downer has been exposed for bugging the East Timorese cabinet to spy on discussions about the gas reserves and the maritime border. While the whistleblowers face criminal charges for breaking the Intelligence Services Act, Downer is welcomed by our university administration as a worthy figure to pass his wisdom onto students. Anyone who views university as a place that should facilitate the betterment of society should oppose any links to militarism and any veneration of warmongers such as Alexander Downer.

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