<p>On 19 February, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the University of Melbourne and defence manufacturing company BAE Systems Australia to conditionally collaborate in Fishermans Bend.</p>
On 19 February, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the University of Melbourne and defence manufacturing company BAE Systems Australia to conditionally collaborate in Fishermans Bend. The agreement has raised questions over whether the University should be investing in the defence industry.
If BAE Systems is selected to supply the Australian Army with AMV35 Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles, they will build a “state-of-the-art manufacturing and innovation centre” at Fishermans Bend.
Conveniently, the University of Melbourne’s new engineering campus will also be built at Fishermans Bend, putting “graduate placements, internships, research and development activities and the sharing of facilities” on the table for future students.
What is the AMV35?
The AMV35 is a vehicle known for its speed and manoeuvrability and its capacity for precision fire beyond 4000 metres. It earned a strong reputation through its use in Afghanistan and over 1200 AMVs remain in service with seven countries.
This is not the first time the University has partnered with an arms manufacturing company, garnering mixed responses in the past.
In August 2016, it was announced that Lockheed Martin, a US-based aerospace, defence, security and advanced technologies company would be opening its first research centre outside of the US in Melbourne, in partnership with the University.
For some students, the prospect of collaboration was heavily outweighed by the fact that Lockheed Martin is the world’s largest weapons manufacturer and “profiting the most from war.”
A group of activists from Peace Protectors protested Lockheed Martin’s presence at the University by sitting on the roof of the construction site for three days. ‘Lockout Lockheed’ is also running an online campaign, which has 469 likes on Facebook and 174 signatures on a petition addressed to the University.
“Whilst students struggle to gain careers in medical research, psychology, business, social services, ecology and the arts, areas that contribute to making our world a better place, the University of Melbourne is handing over its reputation and campus to researching weapons of war and death … I do not want my University supporting a company that profits from war, corruption and the death of innocent civilians,” reads an excerpt from the petition.
Many of the same concerns exist for the BAE Systems deal. Caleb Ballinger, a current student, argued that while this provided a terrific opportunity for students, he would prefer that the collaboration wasn’t with a defence manufacturing company.
“I’m not a big fan of the idea of us making weapons and secondly, there would likely be a lot more privacy issues, so there would be information and areas off limits to students,” he said.
Abu Bhartia, a former Engineering student, argued this collaboration presented valuable opportunities for future engineers.
“Firstly I see defence as just that, protection to make sure that the consequence of a conflict doesn’t affect non-participants,” he said. “Secondly, if BAE is engaging in something unethical, a position of partnership is always a more effective way of changing a situation,” he added.
The Conversation’s recent article on the collaboration between BAE Systems and the University of Melbourne, highlights the notoriously fraught arms trade. Its authors, Associate Professor Tilman Ruff from the Nossal Institute of Global Health and Alex Edney-Browne, a PhD candidate in international relations, explain that Saudi Arabia is BAE’s third largest customer, representing 21 per cent of sales.
BAE currently supplies airplanes which have been used in airstrikes against Yemen, where research suggests a third of raids hit civilians.
When approached for comment on the justification for the collaboration in context of ‘Lockout Lockheed’, a University spokesperson reiterated the benefits of this collaboration for engineering students.
“The MoU gives University of Melbourne students access to equipment, data and testing facilities at the BAE Systems Fishermans Bend facilities, as well as BAE Systems’ global activities, networks and early careers programs,” they said.
Image credit: BAE Systems Australia