Why May 14?

On May 14, the day the Federal Budget was released, university students and staff across Australia turned out to rally against cuts to higher education. The question that needs to be answered is, why did union leadership decide to hold rallies on this day?

I was present at the May Day rally a couple of weeks ago, and am in complete support of all protests against these ridiculous cuts to our budget. I’m especially critical of ANU’s local member and former academic, Dr Andrew Leigh, whose facile attempts to reason away the cuts by suggesting that it was a matter of “choice” between universities and school education.

The Federal Budget is a big deal in national politics. Every year in mid-May, Canberra becomes packed with politicians, staffers, lobbyists and interest groups, all looking to get a slice of the pie. I cannot overstate how much media attention is devoted to this story.

On the day of the budget announcement, journalists like myself are packed into the main committee room of Australian Parliament House and locked up for six hours to analyse the budget. At times, it seems as if Treasury grads outnumber media representatives.

As a result of the money invested into such an operation, all other issues are pushed out of prominence in the mainstream media in order to favour Budget-related stories. To hold a media event, or to push a non-budget-related story is simply a waste of resources.

Furthermore, the protest was going to have no effect on university funding in the Budget. By the morning of May 14, the budget papers were already printed, press releases prepared, and the Government invested in selling their message.

The way I see it, there are two possible reasons for holding the rally on the day of the Federal Budget:

The first reason, the charitable reason, is through sheer ignorance and incompetence on behalf of the NUS leadership. To undertake such an action on Budget Day indicates a meagre appreciation of how the media cycle operates, something that any PR person or media worker could tell you.

The second reason, operating under a more sinister motive, is that the Labor-aligned NUS was looking to simultaneously look like they were doing something while simultaneously sabotaging the endeavour with full knowledge that any media coverage (and there was some) would be drowned out by the Budget coverage.

If either cases are true, we should be questioning the leadership of our peak union body. In the case of the second reason, we should be asking why the NUS was so keen to sell their constituents down the river for political gain.

It would be pertinent for our Canberra NUS delegate (who hasn’t answered my emails from a month ago) to explain why it was decided that May 14 was a good day to hold their rally.