Chants of “no cuts, no fees, no corporate universities” rang out across Australia today as students protested the government’s proposed cuts to tertiary education.
Thousands of students gathered at the State Library in Melbourne to voice their opposition the federal budget and hear from a variety of speakers, including NUS Education Officer Sarah Garnham and deputy leader of the Greens Adam Bandt.
“The government will expand the demand driven funding system for higher education courses from 1 January 2016, and seek to share costs of higher education more fairly,” the 2014 budget reads. These changes are expected to save up to $1.1 billion over three years.
Speaking to Catalyst, Bandt said it is important students voice their opposition to the government’s proposed cuts to tertiary education.
“It’s vital that students fight for their own ability to go to university but also for everyone who is coming after them,” he said. “This budget is one of the biggest threats to this country’s way of life that we’ve seen. Australia must stay a place where everyone can get into university or TAFE regardless of how much money you’ve got.”
Mining billionaire Clive Palmer, whose party will control the balance of power in the Senate from 1 July, has said in recent days he would not support the deregulation of university fees. Bandt welcomes this stance.
“I am very prepared to work with Clive Palmer, the Labor party and whoever else to stop these changes getting through,” he said. “I am very pleased to hear what Clive Palmer has said and I hope he sticks to it.”
Labor’s education spokesperson and member for Adelaide, Kate Ellis, also spoke to the crowd. She said students across Australia are standing as one to oppose the Abbott government’s “extreme” and “destructive” changes to higher education.
“Every Australian should rely upon the size of their brain and not the weight of their wallet when it comes to getting into university,” she said. “I and my Labor colleagues will absolutely vote against these cuts to university funding.”
In her speech, Ellis also condemned violent protests and said violence would not change anyone’s minds.
“We can win this because we have the strongest argument,” she said. “We can win this because we’re right.”
The RMIT University Student Union’s Education Officer, Abena Dove, told Catalyst the government’s proposed changes are the biggest cuts to tertiary education funding in a decade.
“It’s important for all student unions to mobilise against these cuts,” she said. “They will affect all students, especially those from low socio-economic backgrounds.”
Towards the end of the speeches a member of the Socialist Alternative dowsed a copy of the 2014 federal budget in kerosine and set it alight as the crowd cheered. When the protesters reached State Parliament some began to try to push down a police barricade and engage in a sit-down protest.
By Broede Carmody
Photographs by Finbar O’Mallon