Around 1000 students and academics rallied in Melbourne today to protest the government’s cuts to tertiary education. The crowd gathered at the State Library to hear a variety of representatives speak. RMIT academic Liam Ward told the crowd that they had “a fight” on their hands. Kyle Webb, the University of Melbourne Student Union’s Indigenous Officer, said: “I will not sit down and be told eat your shit.”
Students from The University of Melbourne marched to the State Library, where they joined 150 Monash counterparts who had taken a bus into the CBD. After chanting slogans and obscenities the crowd marched down Swanston Street, bringing traffic to a standstill.
Here’s a gallery of photographs taken by reporter Alan Weedon:
Reporter David Ross spoke to the Kalvin Gale, a Victoria Police Senior Sergeant:
He said he expected a “loud, passionate, well behaved and lawful” protest.
Police were aware that students from other universities were commuting to the protest and were using the mounted division as a contingency in case “other elements” were to cause problems.
It was raining by the time the protesters reached Federation Square. There was a strong security presence, with mounted police on standby. Adam Bandt, Federal Greens MP, spoke to the crowd via video link.
Missed the rally? Here’s a recording of the main events:
Jade Tyrell, President of the National Union of Students, spoke to Catalyst earlier today. She said the rally is about students voicing their anger.
“Ultimately, this is a reminder that higher education shouldn’t be treated as an easy target.”
Ms Tyrell says the union has never denied Labor’s strong track record in relation to education funding. However the most recent cuts have been “such a slap in the face”.
“They were going so well,” she says. “Obviously we are supportive of the Gonski reforms, we think they are very important. But the Government has inextricably linked higher education and Gonski, pitting one form of education against another.”
RMIT Student Union President, James Michelmore, says the cuts are an “attack” on Australia’s higher education. “We are disappointed to see the government turn its back on university students,” he said in a statement.
“Around 22 per cent of domestic undergraduate students at RMIT currently rely on Student Start-up Scholarships that are now being converted to loans. These loans bring additional debt and will deter young people from seeking higher education.”
However Branwell Travers, an RMIT student, says it’s important to put things into perspective.
“I think it’s important that students come together and oppose these cuts. But it’s really important to remember that Labor has always been a friend to higher education in Australia,” he said. “There has been a moderation of the expected funding increases, but looking at the bigger picture there will still be an increase in funding.”
Liam Ward, a lecturer at RMIT, rejects this idea. He told Catalyst that today was just the start of the campaigning. “We’ll be back,” he said. “It’s not just these cuts, it’s the whole logic of government austerity that is creeping around the world at the moment.”
He said in a wealthy country like Australia, such cuts are unacceptable. “The wealth of Gina Rinehart alone could fund free education for anyone in this country.”
Melbourne University’s Vice Chancellor today voiced his support for students taking the day off class in order to attend the rally. Similarly, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Technology Sydney said students won’t be penalised for taking the day off to attend the protests. However when Catalyst contacted RMIT’s Vice Chancellor, a member of her staff said a similar announcement for RMIT “hadn’t really been discussed”.
Liam Ward says this “speaks volumes”.
“I would expect the executive of this profitable institution to come out and say these cuts will not be borne by staff and students,” he said.
However Vice Chancellor Margaret Gardener did contact students via email on May 9. She wrote that students could contact their local MP and get involved through the ‘Smart Investment’ campaign on Twitter in order for the government to “hear this message loud and clear”.
Jeannie Rea, the President of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), agrees that education cuts are becoming systemic across not just Australia, but the world. “It seems to me that universities are copping more cuts than anyone else,” she said.
Colin Long, the Victorian Secretary of the NTEU, says today’s protest is about preparing for the future. “If there is a Coalition government we will need to fight extra hard to defend education over the next several years,” he said.
“In the end, neither party has a great record on tertiary education and we need to stand up to whichever party is in power.”
There are reports of another rally on May 30 at the State Library.