Hundreds of students attending the Students of Sustainability (SOS) conference, together with activists from Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance (WACA) and Disarm Universities occupied three sites in Melbourne on July 11 to highlight corporate, government and university complicity in the cycle of war, climate destruction and abuse of refugees.
In the early morning, the students entered and shut down the CBD offices of BHP, Border Force (Department of Home Affairs) and Melbourne University. They were protesting the organisations’ roles in the abuse and torture of refugees and asylum seekers, research and development of military technology, and the destruction of the climate.
The students aim to highlight the interlinked oppression of the system upheld by governments, universities and corporations that fuels the neoliberal agenda via corporatism, militarism, the violent oppression of human rights, the abuse of refugees and the deliberate destruction of the environment.
A spokesperson for the action Lily Matchett said: “Our solutions to the global humanitarian and environmental crisis we all face cannot be through militarisation of our public policy and our institutions. Australia’s military spending has a direct impact on climate change, and causes an increase in the number of refugees seeking asylum in Australia and elsewhere around the world.
“We can no longer behave as though the actions of governments, corporations and institutions are independent of each other. In an era where are our rights are being eroded it is up to us all to speak out and take action. If we are to have any chance of reducing the impacts of climate change and creating a peaceful world where human rights are upheld, it is essential that we treat these elements as a whole, whose impacts are much greater than the sum of their parts”.
“A surge in extreme weather events caused by climate change has led to the forced migration of climate displaced peoples. Many of those most imminently affected are our close neighbours in the Pacific Islands. Further, with the recent increase in Australia’s military spending, we are forced to recognise Australia’s role in displacing vulnerable people around the globe and the abuse of many of those people’s rights as they flee violence or climate change.
“Our continued backing of US wars of aggression (whose military is the biggest user of fossil fuels on the world), from Iraq to Palestine to Syria, renders us directly responsible for many of the refugees and asylum seekers now fleeing their homes and seeking refuge in this country.
“We want to expose the links between violent structures of oppression operating in this country and show that the system is crafted to serve a select few who are creating war, destroying our planet and abusing human rights. We want to uproot the system and work for a future where we all can thrive. Students have often been at the forefront of social change and we want to visiblise the violence that this country is built upon.”
Students at the Border Force offices used their bodies to block worker access to the buildings. Outside the Border Force offices, a spokesperson for the students there Holly Brooke explained their protest: “The increased concentration of power in the hands of [Home Affairs minister] Peter Dutton is a significant erosion of our democracy. Dutton has repeatedly demonstrated his lack of empathy, his desire to punish those who come to Australia seeking help, and to politicise the terrible circumstances faced by refugees and asylum seekers.
“The Australian government is directly responsible for the indefinite detention, rape, torture and child abuse suffered by refugees and asylum seekers at the hands of Australia’s corporate agents, such as Wilson Security, Transfield (BroadSpectrum) and Serco on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island and in the many onshore detention centres across Australia.
“Over 137 children are imprisoned on Nauru while over 500 men have been abandoned by Australia on Manus and both sides of politics have done nothing to end the abuse of human rights.
“It’s time for the Australian government to end this obscene and illegal policy and bring every single man, woman and child languishing in offshore death camps to Australia, for safe processing and resettlement either here or in another country such as New Zealand.
“We refuse to be complicit in the militarisation of what is essentially a humanitarian crisis that Australia helped create by engaging in illegal US wars and propping up a fossil fuel industry that is accelerating climate destruction and global insecurity and conflict.
“Peter Dutton and both sides of politics in this country have criminalised the act of asking for help and collectively punished and tortured some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.
“Enough is enough, shut down Manus, Nauru and Christmas Island, bring them here and resettle people safely and with dignity.”
Outside the BHP building, spokesperson Zianna Fuad said: “Australian companies must be held account for the atrocities they commit to land and people overseas. BHP has caused environmental disasters that has ended in local deaths in Brazil, logged carbon dense forests and displaced Indigenous communities across South America.
“BHP has long been enabling the military industry. BHP has been operating Australia’s largest uranium mine since 2005, despite the local Kokatha people directly opposing the mine. Additionally, BHP owns seven other mines, including coal, oil, gas, copper and sulphide mines.”
Students used barrel pipe locks across the main doors of the administration building of the University of Melbourne over its links with the weapons trade. They are calling for the university to cut all ties with weapons manufacturers and #LockoutLockheed.
Spokesperson William Ross explained why they were there. “We have locked down the administration building today because we refuse to pay for education that is funding war and climate change.
“Melbourne University has recently partnered with the largest weapons manufacturer in the world, Lockheed Martin on the STELaR Lab, a research laboratory that Lockheed Martin boasts is the biggest weapons laboratory it has established outside the USA.
“The military industry is responsible for a huge percentage of carbon emissions and we now have secret laboratories operating just off campus, with zero transparency.
“As students we cannot ignore the corporatisation and corruption of our universities into the military industrial complex and as a result, we are calling for students across the country to take direct action and #DisarmUnis.
“[Universities] should be places of peace, that advance social change and environmental solutions through education, yet they are enabling corporations to design new technological weapons. How can we learn about the horrors of war and the global increase in refugees and asylum seekers while fellow students are working with Lockheed Martin to create killer weapons?”
The student activists put their bodies on the line and risked arrest to send a strong message to the university that the ties between universities and weapons manufacturers, especially those whose weapons are being used to commit war crimes, must end. The main university building was blockaded for an entire work day and no one managed to get in. Staff were told to go to another building, but this building was blockaded as well.
After almost an entire day of collective effort and with the students threatening to blockade the building again next day, the university finally agreed to meet four students to discuss the contract with Lockheed Martin. They will not show the contract with Lockheed Martin to the students, but they are willing to discuss what primary and secondary research will be conducted on site, as well as a timeline for the laboratory's construction and location.
This is the first time the Vice-Chancellor of Research has met any activist student group in at least seven years and creates a lot of momentum for the campaign. #lockoutlockheed