Forty people gathered at an Adelaide pub on 15 November to celebrate the establishment of the Disarm campaign at South Australian universities. 

The student campaign – aimed at cutting ties between universities and the arms industry – has hit something of a nerve in the “defence state”, garnering attention in the press and creating   political controversy on campuses. 

Over the last semester, around 2,500 students and staff have signed anti-militarist petitions at the three main South Australian universities. Adelaide University management has provoked outrage and protest by its new partnership with the notorious arms company Lockheed Martin.

Speakers at the end of year celebration included state Greens leader Mark Parnell and university staff union state president Peter Cardwell. They denounced the government’s prioritisation of weapons production and export over social services. Cardwell pledged the union’s support for the campaign. 

A network of staff members now identify with the campaign, concerned by militarisation and the general rise of corporate interference in higher education.

Student activist Maddy Edhouse reported on the situation at the University of South Australia, where the Defence and Systems Institute (DASI) wields significant influence over research and curriculum. She explained, “DASI has representatives on its advisory committee from the top weapons companies – Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, SAAB Systems, Raytheon. They don’t just partner with the uni here and there; they have an ongoing relationship of advising and steering the university’s research”. 

The keynote speaker, John Scott, spoke of his experience as an anti-war draft dodger during the Vietnam War. He recounted how the efforts of very small numbers of anti-war activists eventually contributed to a mass movement that transformed Australian society.

“When I left for England in 1966”, he said, “I left a dull, conformist society. Arriving back in Australia only four years later, I found a very rebellious society. Like in The Wizard of Oz, what was once black and white had transformed into full technicolour”. 

Activists today can take heart from this. Our enemy – the military-industrial complex – can seem invincible. But history shows that the war machine can be resisted and defeated. 

The beginnings of an anti-militarist campaign on Adelaide’s campuses this year has been a modest but important development.