Students from all colleges converged yesterday in Union Court to protest the Liberal Government’s decision to deregulate university fees. The rally was organized by Marko Supic, member of the Socialist Alternative & the ANU Education Action Group, and was supported by ANUSA and the National Union of Students (NUS). Politicians, union leaders and students called for “No cuts! No fees! No corporate universities.” Dr. John Minns of the Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies was first to speak, expressing his views that the recently released budget “reflects starkly, the priorities and views of this government.”
Secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union ACT Division, Stephen Darwin, also spoke of the concerns he had towards Abbott’s cuts to higher education. Darwin stated that, “This is a threshold moment. If the movement is to succeed, universities will never be the same. I am very concerned that the Vice-Chancellor of this University, Professor Ian Young, has led his Group of 8 colleagues down this path and I am very concerned that the Universities seem to be announcing before Christopher Pyne announced. I think that they have been working together on this proposal, that the Group of Eight have helped manufacture this approach.”
ANUSA and NUS supported the rally, providing students with ‘Stop the Cuts’ T-shirts and other merchandise. ANUSA President Cam Wilson acknowledged Vice Chancellor Professor Young’s support of the deregulation of university fees, saying that “ANU has a lot to answer for and we will make them answer for it.” Speaking of the financial burden that the proposed budget would impose on students, Wilson stated, “If they want to open up our sector to market forces, then we will be a force.”
The rally culminated in Marco Supic’s own address, condemning VC Professor Young’s stance on deregulation. “[Deregulation will result in] more prestige for the University, more pay for Young.”
Waving a proposed resignation letter for VC Professor Ian Young, Supic led students to the Chancelry, where the protest leaders moved to occupy the building, supported by shouts from the crowd to “let them in.”
The rally was made up of more than 500 students from both ANU and the University of Canberra, as well as members of the wider community.
The crowd’s sentiment was one of disillusionment with the Abbott government. Tim Harrison, member of the ANU’s Greens Club, spoke of the increase in support since the budget was announced. “Since the Budget has come out, [the issue] has come into state focus, how bad it’s going to be. Hopefully the momentum keeps going.”
Students expressed their concerns, holding signs stating, “WE DESERVE A FUTURE TOO, HEY IAN WE’RE TALKING TO YOU” and “THE YOUNG AND THE RUTHLESS.”
Ben Niles, the only nominee for PARSA President that attended the rally, stated, “I am here in the interests of students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, both international and domestic, and their access to university education.”
Shanthi Kumarage, a Science PhB student said, “What if the cure for cancer is trapped inside the mind of someone who can’t afford an education?”
Lily Dubois, PhD in Sociology, “I didn’t need a crystal ball to tell me they’re all scumbags.”
Kieran Murray, first year Commerce/Law: “Maybe if I own a Maybach one day, I’ll be able to afford my kids’ uni fees.”
Tom Chen, Economics/IR Student honours student, “For an institution, which prides itself on delivering good service to its clients, this level of dissatisfaction demonstrates the corporate model will not work.”
Samuel Guthrie, President of the UniLodge Residents Committee, “My concern is that the deregulation of HECS fees is a stepping stone. Today, universities want higher contributions. Later, when they have to wait to get their money, they’ll start to want a ‘small contribution’ up front.”
The leaders of the protest attempted to force their way in to the Chancelry using pliers. ANU Security was present and was heard over-saying that their instructions were to “wait-out” the protesters. Police were later called to the campus, although, some have reported that plain-clothed policemen were present throughout the day.
Today’s rally echoed those across the nation as students united in protest against the cuts to education. Whilst the protests elsewhere have been peaceful, a report out of Sydney has claimed that one protester was violently arrested for holding a lit flare on George Street in the city’s CBD.Upon the advice of the AFP, Prime Minister Tony Abbott chose to abandon a planned visit to the Deakin University’s Geelong campus for fears of his own safety.