Perth’s Crown Casino will host the inaugural Western Australian Indo-Pacific Defence Conference this month, featuring guest speakers from two of the world’s biggest weapons manufacturers, state and federal politicians and military researchers.

State minister for defence issues Paul Papalia said the conference will provide an opportunity to promote “our capabilities and [harness] the state’s competitive edge to maximise our contribution to national and international defence business opportunities”.

In other words, it will provide an opportunity for more Western Australian businesses to profit from death and destruction on a global scale. It will also strengthen ties between weapons manufacturers and universities.  

Convened by state government body Defence West, the conference has been endorsed by all four public universities in the state. Both Liberal and Labor politicians are speaking at the event.

The National Union of Students’ Books not Bombs campaign has called a protest against the conference. “We are protesting to stand up for high quality, fully funded education for all, to oppose the militarisation of our universities, and to prevent the Australian government from succeeding in its plan to make the country one of the top 10 arms manufacturers in the world”, Books not Bombs activist Nicole Mcewen told Red Flag.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has endorsed the campaign and condemned the undermining of academic freedom that has occurred as a result of universities accepting private funding from arms corporations and the defence department.

Prominent attendees at the conference will be premier Mark McGowan, chief of navy Michael Noonan, Lockheed Martin Australia CEO Vince di Pietro and BAE Systems Australia chair Ian Watt.  

Lockheed Martin and BAE are the world’s largest and third largest arms producers respectively.  Both companies sell weapons to despotic regimes, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, making them complicit in war crimes.  Saudi Arabia and the UAE have killed more than 10,000 civilians in Yemen since their military intervention began in 2015. 

The Australian government has not only failed to condemn the atrocities committed by Saudi forces in Yemen, but has increased Australian arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Documents obtained by independent news site New Matilda under Freedom of Information laws confirm that, in 2016-17, 16 licences were granted for the export of military equipment from Australia to Saudi Arabia. In December 2016, then minister for defence industry Christopher Pyne visited Riyadh to spruik for more Australian defence contracts. 

Lockheed Martin is also complicit in Israeli war crimes, having sold weapons to the apartheid state since 1971. Recently, its teargas canisters have been used against Palestinian protesters, wounding many and even killing an 8-month-old baby. Both these companies have partnerships with various Australian universities.

Friends of Palestine WA convenor Nick Everett told Red Flag that the group would support the protest to oppose military ties between the Australian government and apartheid Israel.

“Last October Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a memorandum of understanding to increase military ties”, he said. 

“It focused on developing cyber security technologies to combat what the racist fear-monger Turnbull called in the Sydney Morning Herald ‘militant Islamist terror’.”  

In January, Turnbull unveiled a new “defence export strategy”, setting out plans to make Australia one of the world’s top 10 weapons exporters within the next decade. 

While education, social services and welfare have all recently faced cuts, no expense will be spared pursuing the Coalition’s military goals. 

Australian universities now play a vital role in the military-industrial complex. Starved of public funding, universities are increasingly becoming laboratories for the research and development of weapons used to kill and maim civilians. 

The University of Western Australia, in partnership with arms manufacturer Thales, conducts research into maritime weaponry to improve “undersea warfare effectiveness.” The university also received $3 million from the federal government to research drones alongside Scientific Aerospace.  

Curtin University has links with both Thales and Lockheed Martin, with which it researches and develops tracking technology. 

On October 30, students will protest against the universities’ role in furthering death and destruction.

For more information on the protest, visit the Books not Bombs Facebook page.