The Guardian • Issue #2061



Good news is rare for peace, but recently the NSW Department of Education amended its policy to add weapons companies to the list of inappropriate sponsors in schools. There are similar policies in the ACT, Victoria, and Queensland.

The Commercial Arrangements, Sponsorship and Donations Policy in the NSW Department of Education already prohibits companies promoting tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and unhealthy food products from delivering educational programs in schools. Now they have added arms companies to the list.

The weapons industry, with the backing of the Department of Defence, has openly said that its involvement in education is to “secure the talent pipeline.” Education should be designed around the needs of students and their communities, not the need for a skilled workforce by the arms industry.

Links between the industry and schools exist all over Australia. They are in the form of sponsorships, events, competitions, tours of industry premises, exhibitions at careers fairs and direct personal engagement between industry personnel and students and teachers. Engineers and other company representatives go into classrooms to engage with students. Northrop Grumman sponsors trips to the US for students and teachers.

The Medical Association for the Prevention of War 2022 report “Minors and Missiles” points out that weapons companies have been sponsoring and directly delivering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) education programs to primary school children, with the explicit intention of creating positive attitudes to careers in weapons development and production.

There are no equivalent strategies to support STEM skilling or career pathways in fields critical to our survival and well-being, such as renewable energy, water and food security, or public health.

So it’s good news from NSW. However, problems remain.

There is no ban on weapons companies in schools in South Australia, which already has a weapons industry, especially naval equipment, and has “defence TAFEs.”

Many programs are operated through front organisations, such as First Australia or Regional Development Australia. These may be used as a loophole to avoid the new ban.

The proliferation of weapons is a great threat to peace. The development, trade, and use of armaments undermines human security across the globe; nuclear weapons pose a grave existential threat to all humanity. The global weapons industry profits from war and insecurity and is associated with corruption and human rights violations.

There is no evidence that investment in military industries generates significant domestic employment opportunities. Other industries can generate more jobs and greater social benefits with lower public investment.

Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Thales, Raytheon, and BAE systems are all also engaged in partnerships with various leading Australian universities in research, scholarships, industry placements, and other career opportunities.

Many of these partnerships focus on the development of next-generation weapons like hypersonics, long range and smart munitions, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems.

Australian university managements do not want to miss out on the military-industrial-education financial boom.

Catriona Jackson, CEO of Universities Australia, sees commercial opportunities as the priority. Distant from the process of learning, she sees AUKUS as packed with promise.

Her aim is “developing the capability to deliver the project, including through the provision of skilled workers and world-class research and development that universities are right to give their full support to.”

The intrusion of weapons companies into the lives of school children and tertiary students is an issue that undermines educational values, distracts from the real problems the world faces, promotes militarism, and inures them to war and the human cost of the development, trade, and use of weapons.

The fight to kick the military industrial complex out of classrooms and universities and to educate for a safe and peaceful world must go on. Arms dealers have no place in schools or universities.

Adequate funding and promotion of STEM careers in climate change mitigation and environmental protection are far more important to our future security than development of weapons systems.

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