It was a disappointing turn out in Melbourne on Wednesday, with police estimating only 100 people at a National Day of Action organised by the National Union of Students (NUS).
While Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s bold plan to deregulate Australian university fees has been knocked back by the senate, the budget earlier this month still promised to deliver on his reforms.
Low turnout on Wednesday, unlike last year’s huge – albeit rough – March in May, showed how far the issue has drifted from students’ minds. Police were close to outnumbering the protestors.
But unless it’s a fresh assault, it’s hard to grab people and say, ‘Hey, remember this from last year? It’s still here!’; especially when the government has failed to get these reforms through despite Pyne sending salacious text messages to ex-rugby players.
There’s a sense of fatigue – how many times can people express their complete opposition to higher education reforms before it loses all meaning?
I would speculate the government is happy to let fee deregulation get knocked back as long as they can still pass cuts to HECs, meaning the government will give less toward your degree.
Some independent senators like Nick Xenophon still want to see changes to the higher education system. While he doesn’t want them on Pyne’s terms alone, students may have to get ready to see something like a downsizing of HECS contributions.
The budget, with it’s ‘have a go‘ small business plan, has already rewarded the government with a poll bounce. The rhetoric from critics is mostly this budget was mainly about saving the government’s skin; it’s probably safe to speculate the government is considering heading to a double dissolution.
If the government can recover seats from the flurry of cross-bench senators holding sway in the upper house (and maintain their numbers in the lower house) they’ll be able to pass whatever they want, including Pyne’s higher education reforms.
This scares the shit out of me and polls show most people feel the same, but what happened on Wednesday? It’s week 11, which means exam and assessments are the first things on people’s minds, so maybe no one can spare the time.
Or maybe there needs to be a stronger campaign from both university student unions and the NUS, to get people reinvigorated about this debate. When a day of action like this doesn’t even deserve a whisper from the bigger media players, us students have to ask what can we do to put this back on the agenda.