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New evidence indicates University collaborated with police at strikes

Xiaoran Shi investigates the continued controversy over police on campus

Honi Soit has acquired information confirming the University’s collaboration with police in relation to police presence and conduct on at least one occasion of protest action undertaken by students and staff on campus.

This new information directly contradicts previous statements from the University rejecting any coordination between police and University management.

A confidential report prepared by the University of Sydney Union (USU) contains information stating that, during protest action undertaken at Open Day on August 31, a police officer advised a USU staff member that police were “not in a position to do anything but follow them (protestors), unless instructed otherwise by the University”.

USU Vice-President, Tom Raue, disclosed this information to Honi Soit against the wishes of the other Executive members of the USU Board of Directors, citing its importance to “the public interest”.

Throughout the series of on campus strikes and rallies this year, Honi Soit has reported on evidence that allegedly points to the University’s collusion with police, including the NSW Public Order and Riot Squad, in breaking up picket lines.

During the National Tertiary Education Union- (NTEU) and Community and Public Sector Union-led strike on June 5, the University’s Security/Traffic Operations Controller, Colin Bowman, was equipped with an all-day visitor’s pass to Newtown Police Station and allowed to visit students who had been arrested while they were in custody.

One student who was arrested at the June 5 strike described Bowman’s presence as thus: “He was allowed into cells at the station to give people banning notices before we were allowed to meet with legal representation.”

Bowman could not be reached for comment, but when Duane Ledford, another member of the University’s Campus Security team, was asked to respond to the information contained in the USU report, he stated that he was not at liberty to discuss such matters.

NSW Police were considerably more forthcoming when approached for comment. A statement issued by Superintendent Simon Hardman, Commander at Newtown Police denied formal collaboration with the University, noting that “the response is my decision alone and not made in concert with the University management.”

He also repudiated the idea that “some would believe that we are in collusion with the University to break the strikes!” (punctuation his own).

Hardman justified the necessity of police presence on campus by noting that police “do not require any invitation from the University management to enter the grounds and conduct police operations”. He also emphasised the liaison between strike organisers and police, as pursuant to the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) which governs the right to protest.

However, at least 11 students have been arrested and a further number have sustained injuries as a result of violent clashes with police at strike picket lines, including one student who had his leg broken, one who suffered internal bleeding, and another who was taken in a stranglehold for several minutes by a police officer.

Despite such instances of police brutality, Superintendent Hardman makes “no apology for … interjecting when protesters break the law”, and affirms that such “action … will continue.”

Furthermore, a University spokesperson reiterated the stance of non-collaboration with police that the Vice-Chancellor’s office has maintained all year, stating that “the University does not guide or influence police operations”.

Nonetheless, the spokesperson made no effort to explicitly address the information provided in the confidential report.

The NTEU will continue its industrial action campaign with a  72 hour strike, the longest strike of this year, planned to commence on October 8.