April 10: Stop the war, Stop the Nelson review

Issue 

BY GRANT COLEMAN

The National Union of Students (NUS) has organised a national day of action against funding cuts and student fee increases for April 10. Kylie Moon, a leader of the student anti-war group Books Not Bombs, has called on all university students who are opposed to the war on Iraq to join the April 10 actions, arguing that the protests should oppose all of the Coalition’s projected “war budget”, and the criminal war on Iraq, which is being used to justify further cuts to higher education funding.

“Students have to be demanding that the money currently spent on death and destruction be used to fund free quality education. We also need to be opposing the war on Iraq — a war waged for the benefit of the oil companies”, Moon argued. “If these protests call for one and not the other then they cease to be relevant to the majority of today’s student activists, tens of thousands of whom have protested against the war on high schools, universities and at the weekend peace marches.”

So what has war got to do with books, class rooms and teaching quality?

Since the federal Coalition was elected in 1996, more than $1 billion have been cut from federal higher education funding, which had already been shrinking under the previous 13 years of ALP government. According to the National Tertiary Education Industry Union (NTEU), student fees now fund between 26% and 80% of course costs. Most fee-paying students pay at least 40%.

Education minister Brendan Nelson is currently undertaking a review of higher education funding, which is likely to make this much worse. Information so far leaked suggests that public funding will barely increase. A possible “$1 billion increase” will probably come from already promised (and not delivered) packages, not be available until 2007, and in any case, will barely help the sector catch up for the cuts of the last few years.

Given that there are four more budgets and possibly two more elections before 2007 this is a promise that most people do not expect the government to follow through with.

Even these make-believe crumbs come at a cost to students and staff. Nelson is proposing to increase fees and tie research grants to anti-union individual agreements. Under these proposals, student debt will balloon even further and some students won’t be able to ever pay off their debts.

But since 1996, funding to the defence forces has increased. In the 2002-2003 budget the government increased military spending by $544 million. This year’s budget was expected to see an increase of twice that amount, even before troops were deployed to attack Iraq.

According to the March 31 Australian Financial Review even if the war on Iraq “ends relatively quickly” the “cost of sending Australian troops to the Gulf [will] total about $700 million this year”. Total military spending is expected to rise from $12.2 billion to well over $13 billion and could even approach $14 billion. The AFR also reported that federal treasurer Peter Costello warned that “there is little room for discretionary spending and costs must be cut wherever possible.”

Corporate newspapers, television and radio stations are reporting ad nauseum on “our troops” in Iraq. But what they don’t tell us is that every Australian aircraft involved in the bombing of Baghdad is costing $8000 an hour.

When the budget is handed down in May, students, parents, workers, the sick and elderly, the unemployed and pensioners will pay for this criminal war.

NUS will be calling on opposition parties to block Nelson’s proposals in the Senate. NUS president Daniel Kyriacou told Green Left Weekly that the ALP, Greens and Democrats have given in principle support to this idea, but are waiting to see Nelson’s final proposal. NUS is planning a May 13 student convergence on Parliament House in Canberra to coincide with the budget being handed down.

“ We should call on the opposition parties to block the whole budget, not just Nelson’s proposals”, Moon said to Green Left Weekly. “This will be a budget designed to pay for murder, destruction and genocide. We must put Howard on trial for his role in this war, we must make him face the people. This is how we can stop the war and stop Nelson.”

[Grant Coleman is a member of Books Not Bombs in Wollongong.]

From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
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