Books not Bombs

Books Not Bombs

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:29): I rise today to speak about a movement to disarm our universities. That movement is Books Not Bombs. Quite obviously, its aim is that universities be about books not bombs. But right now the federal government is pouring billions and billions of dollars into what they are calling the defence industry. Let's be honest, they are pouring all of this money into what should be called the 'harm industry', an industry whose very stock in trade is the perpetuation not only of human misery but, indeed, the violation, often, of human rights. While I am here making this speech, just a few doors down North Terrace, Adelaide is currently hosting Land Forces 2018, an international industry exposition to showcase equipment, technology and services for the armies of Australia and the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Outside, the Quakers are staging peaceful protest.

This federal government, however, has a vision for our universities that is not one of academic aspiration and opportunity, not one of free and high-quality accessible education. Indeed, it is one that is to turn Australia into one of the top 10 arms exporters on the planet and, worse, to make our universities a key part of that plan. The government needs skilled graduates to grow and sustain these military and weapons industry wet dreams, but intensifying the ties between universities, the Department of Defence and weapons manufacturers is simply not ethically justifiable.

Australia is already one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, and our political leaders want to make us just that little bit richer by trading in global misery. The federal Liberal government, under former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, has committed $3.8 billion to push the Australian arms export industry, $3.8 billion on an industry that profits from war, from violence, from genocide and from human rights abuses; $3.8 billion on all of this while, more broadly, universities are being starved of funding and people are being forced to pay back their so-called student debts earlier and earlier than ever before.

On top of this, we are seeing more and more troubling and uncomfortable links between universities and the defence and arms industries in our country. Twenty-five million dollars will be spent on a university research deal with the US military, with five Australian universities reportedly participating. The research program they are participating in aims to create, as was described by now minister Christopher Pyne, 'game changing military capabilities', because, you know, killing people is a game.

Some other parties have also bought the lies with a pork-barrelling race to the bottom in our electoral campaigns run on building more and more subs and avoiding a so-called valley of death literally by profiting from death itself. It is a perverse and expensive job creation scheme of little social benefit, and public funds should and could be spent in much better ways. For example, as SACOSS has suggested, one less sub perhaps raising the rate of Newstart and having an equivalent boost to our state economic books, thus eradicating misery rather than perpetuating it.

But this is not just a fervour confined to politicians. In South Australia, our three main universities are all part of a research network funded by BAE Systems, the UK weapons manufacturer. These partnerships raise serious ethical concerns. BAE Systems has faced allegations of bribery and fraud. Its airplanes are currently used in Saudi Arabia's current bombardment of Yemen. These partnerships also place academic freedom at risk, where military-funded research will be expected to demonstrate military value.

As Australian research councils struggle and we see a culture of cuts to our universities, academics with limited funding options may be driven to seek military funding. This has the potential to undermine their control over the direction and use of their research. It does not have to be this way. Education of course used to be free, driven by an idea that it should be not money but merit and a funded, fair taxation system that drives our educational priorities.

Perversely, however, the more we have seen credentialism creep into the higher education sector, that very expense that is required now increasingly on those students has been borne by those individual students. Yet, education is an investment, not a social cost, and a fair taxation system would take a share of your wealth, not your wisdom. Importantly, our education system does not need to be interlinked and dependent on a global harm industry. That is why I support Books Not Bombs and was happy to speak at its launch. That is why we need to stop investing in human misery and suffering, as the campaign call says, to fund books, not bombs, and to create a university culture that builds metaphorical bridges, not blows them up.

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