NSW Teachers Federation deepens opposition to AUKUS, militarism

July 5, 2023
The $368 billion for AUKUS nuclear submarines could be better spent on funding education. Graphic: G
The $368 billion for AUKUS nuclear submarines could be better spent on funding education. Graphic: Green Left

The New South Wales Teachers Federation (NSWTF) decided at its annual conference on July 3 to deepen its stand against AUKUS, the military pact between Australia, Britain and the United States.

The pact allows Australia to purchase eight nuclear submarines for at least $368 billion and makes it the first non-nuclear weapon state to manipulate a loophole in the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection system.

Spokesperson Kelly Marks said the NSWTF stands in solidarity with all workers “fighting off this nuclear threat” against their communities. “Encouragingly, opposition to the deal is growing.”

The union stands with communities on the South Coast “in protecting your future [and] your civilian port that holds the key to a renewable energy future for your region”.

Further, she added: “I want to say to everyone here that Federation does not support a nuclear base, anywhere.”

The conference endorsed a recommendation to work with anti-war, peace and broader union movements “to expose and oppose the threat inherent in this rise in militarism”.

Federation committed to: encourage members to join the Peace, Environment and International Issues Special Interest Group; encourage each Association to elect a Peace Contact to assist in organising future teacher solidarity; actively encourage students to send entries into the Sam Lewis Peace Awards; continue to promote and support activities, rallies, events and publications that inform and encourage peace and the risks posed by AUKUS, including with financial support; and develop a Trade Union Training campaign course, including a focus on the teaching of peace in Federation and in the broader trade union movement.

Rank-and-file delegates unsuccessfully moved amendments to include a ban on the “Nuclear Submarine Challenge” in schools; for a day of action against AUKUS across the country; and to say that AUKUS is driving a war on China.

The Nuclear Submarine Challenge is being pushed by the Department of Defence to encourage students undertaking STEM subjects to “explore the technology involved in nuclear-powered propulsion systems used in submarines”. It would involve in-class activities, extra-curricular activities, home-school groups, and a visit to HMAS Stirling in Western Australia.

The Royal Australian Navy’s unveiled its “challenge” on June 19 which it touted as “an opportunity for students to gain a greater appreciation of the STEM principles behind the [AUKUS] project” and a gateway for careers as “submariners, engineers and technicians”.

The push-back has been swift.

Elise West, Teachers for Peace director and executive officer of the Medical Association for Prevention of War, said: “Some of the world’s biggest weapons companies influence STEM education through sponsorships, partnerships, events, competitions and more. These companies profit from war and insecurity; some of them are associated with weapons of mass destruction, alleged crimes of war, human rights breaches, and corporate misconduct. They should not advertise to children.”

Teachers for Peace and the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), among others, have lobbied the NSW Education Department to prohibit weapons companies from partnering with schools and, on June 30 announced they had been successful.

NSWTF president Angelo Gavrielatos said in June that “there have been too many times in history when warmongering and armaments build-up have led to international conflict, death and destruction”. He said AUKUS “compromises the pursuit of an independent foreign policy and has the potential to drag Australia once again into foreign conflict and war”.

Gavrielatos said “alarmist, war-mongering commentary, deployed in an attempt to bolster unsubstantiated predictions of an inevitable war with China” is of deep concern to the NSWTF.

“For less than the price of one nuclear submarine, the Federal Government could fund the SRS [Schooling Resource Standard] shortfall for the 13 years of school of two cohorts of kids [26 years] till 2040, which coincides with the reported arrival of the first submarine,” he said.

MAPW said three states — Victoria, Queensland and NSW — had now changed their policies as a result of the efforts of anti-war campaigners.

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