The Guardian • Issue #2103

Free education? Sorry kids, the military has all the money

Photo: Susan Melkisethian – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The 2024/25 Federal Budget in May announced that military spending would be $53 billion, an increase on last year’s figure of $46 billion. The figure for education came in at around $52 billion. This pattern of military spending being around the same, as education funding has been consistent over the last few decades. 

However, the military funding total does not include other items which are covered in part by other departments including Foreign Affairs, Industry and the Attorney General.

These areas have budgets for funding for the war in Ukraine, the intelligence services ASIO and ASIS, and the campaign to strengthen links with Pacific Island nations so we can out compete China. There is even funding to provide a National Rugby League franchise to PNG.

Various hard and soft diplomacy items come under Foreign Affairs such as the decision to assist in the war against Yemen or against the Palestinians. Subsidies for arms manufacturing is probably coming out of the industry portfolio.

It is nearly impossible to put a precise figure on military spending by Australia per year because of secrecy and a deliberate policy of obstructing scrutiny. 

Education covers over 4 million young Australians and employs nearly 500,000 teachers and administrators. Education is a big part of our national life, yet it is not being funded near as much as it needs.


The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), the union covering the university sector, states: “Australia can do better for higher education; for our society, which is dependent on the knowledge generated from our world class researchers, for students who rely on a strong public system to deliver them the education they deserve, and for the staff who are the heart and soul of our universities.”

The NTEU also points out that over the past decade, Australia’s higher education sector has been weakened by “declining Federal funding, increasing corporatisation of our public universities, [and] the undermining of the cornerstones of universities such as academic freedom, collegiality, and research independence. This has weakened the university sector that is vital to Australia’s prosperity.”

The contrast between the government’s approach to the military and to education could not be starker.  Education must beg for incremental improvements while the military is showered with funds even to the extent of billions of dollars for US and UK shipyards to help them get around to building an Australian submarine or two.

Starving universities of funds has led to arms manufacturers being welcomed on to campus to fund courses and research. These companies attract subsidies to provide courses which are in essence subsidised training of staff for the arms trade and the military.

In switching from Morrision to Albanese, the Australian people voted out one mob who wanted to join the US continual wars, spend big on the military and host many US bases on our soil, and brought in another mob who want to do the same. Education is the big loser in this arrangement.

Unfortunately, Australia has to say: “Sorry kids, there is no free education in Australia because the military has the money.”

Of course, that can and must be changed – and there was free education under Whitlam who reduced military spending by 50 per cent.

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