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Students and activists protest AUKUS university involvement

"The Go8 and Universities Australia’s commitment to AUKUS and the submarine program is condemning the next generation of students to building for, fighting and dying in a war that is against the interests of ordinary people."

Students and activists gathered outside the Administration Building on 13 April to protest universities’ involvement with the AUKUS submarine programme. 

The protest was organised in response to CEO of Universities Australia Catriona Jackson’s visit to Washington, D.C. to promote university participation in the AUKUS deal by “[training] the next generation to support Australia’s national security.” Protests were concurrently held at the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne. 

Following the announcement of AUKUS in September 2021, the Group of Eight — consisting of eight prestigious universities across the nation — stated that they “will continue to work with government to deliver the skilled graduates required to support our nation’s security interests.”

SRC President Lia Perkins criticised USyd’s claim to promote “leadership for good”.

“The University of Sydney brands itself as a university for good. It offers warm and fuzzy platitudes about change because that’s what drives student enrolments.”

“AUKUS and the warmongering ideology it’s driven by have an enormous negative effect on international peace and Australian sovereignty,” said Perkins.

National Education Tertiary Union USyd Branch President Nick Riemer condemned the “opportunistic race for funding” by university executives in supporting AUKUS and called for an end to the University of Sydney’s “sorry history” of supporting war.

“Catriona Jackson … [is] going off to Washington, basically to ask for as many crumbs all fall from the table of this dangerous new military pact to be sent universities’ way to make up for the glaring deficit in federal funding that Australian universities suffer from.”

Riemer added “it’s very clear … that universities including this one profess to be about peace and social progress, but actions like this show that they are actually for war and for an escalation of the weapons industry.”

Perkins reaffirmed the University of Sydney Union’s opposition to AUKUS, which passed at a 200+ student General Meeting, and called for the university to “do what students and staff have done, making [clear] its stance on what education is really for.”

Cooper Forsyth, a student activist, denounced the Group of Eight expressing “their eagerness and support” for rolling out AUKUS — “it is an act of opportunism, completely in line with what we see from our universities, which have become thoroughly corporatised. They’re grovelling to try and fit the government’s agenda and support the AUKUS drive. This will make our universities ideologically and materially committed to the drive to war.”

Nick Dean from the Marrickville Peace Group condemned AUKUS as a national security risk, noting it has antagonised China and unsettled Malaysia and Indonesia.

“AUKUS is a very real and immediate danger to Australia’s national security,” said Dean.

Lilly Barto from Wage Peace discussed military involvement in education, stretching from universities to primary education and involving both the ADF and private companies including Thales.

“At the primary schools in fact there is a programme … that is sponsored by Boeing and BAE systems,” said Barto, also noting Boeing and Lockheed Martin’s involvement in universities.

Responding to the university’s advertising promoting positive leadership, Barto said “we’ve been sent photos of Thales missiles on the ground from people in West Papua.”

USyd Environment Officer Maeve Larkins commented in a media release about the nature of AUKUS and how students have opposed it.

“The AUKUS agreement and the spending of $368 billion on nuclear-powered submarines is an act of aggression and escalation, not defence. The Go8 and Universities Australia’s commitment to AUKUS and the submarine program is condemning the next generation of students to building for, fighting and dying in a war that is against the interests of ordinary people.

The student union at the University of Sydney has already condemned AUKUS and our universities involvement in it. Students at USYD passed a successful Student General Meeting motion just months after the AUKUS nuclear subs announcement in 2021.” 

An open letter was delivered to Mark Scott calling for the disclosure of all information relating to the university’s involvement in AUKUS and the holding of open meetings with students and staff about it, with similar letters delivered to the vice-chancellors of ANU and UniMelb.

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