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Riot police clash with students protesting Federal Education Minister

Naaman Zhou and Andrew Bell report. Additional reporting by Victoria Zerbst, Justine Landis-Hanley, Siobhan Ryan.

Riot police and student protesters have clashed inside Sydney University’s Fisher Library, spurred by the presence of Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham on campus.

Birmingham was on campus to adjudicate a round of the Sydney University Liberal Club’s (SULC) John Howard Debating Cup.

A group of approximately thirty Students’ Representative Council (SRC) Education Action Group (EAG) activists were forcibly removed from the venue. Some were carried up stairs and pushed out the front doors.

Georgia Mantle, SRC General Secretary and Indigenous Officer, told Honithey put me in a wristlock and pulled my hair and lifted me up by the ankles”.

After approximately fifteen minutes of chanting and speeches, riot police formed a barricade around the group and ejected them.

In the process, the security door on the main entry to Fisher library was severely damaged.

The police and riot squad had been pre-emptively called onto campus. Members of campus security indicated to Honi that this was at the behest of the event organisers.

April Holcombe, SRC Welfare Officer, told Honi: “We were peacefully standing outside the venue when police came and violently pushed everyone out of the building, viciously assaulting an Aboriginal woman in the process.

Liam Carrigan, SRC Education Officer and organiser of the protest, said “no student responded violently.”

“People were nearly trampled. Students were heavily traumatised by the police action.

In 2014, a similar protest and clash with police occurred during the visit of then Education Minister Christopher Pyne to judge the same competition.

Preceding this year’s event there was no promotional material available to those external to SULC. William Dawes, the Club’s President, was approached by Honi but was unavailable to give comment on the evening.

The protest was in response to recent comments by Birmingham that the government’s controversial fee deregulation plan, which was shelved by the Liberal Party late last year, was back on the table.

“It is despicable that Birmingham thinks he can step onto campus after the announcement that the government’s higher education policy remains to be deregulating fees, a move that will lock lower SES students out of education and destroy accessible education in Australia,” said Carrigan.

“It is important that the student movement remains militant in opposing these politicians on campus.”
Fisher Library was closed by police after the protest, with students not allowed to enter.