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Activists occupy City Road in education cuts protest

At least 16 students have been fined

Protesters on City Rd. Source: Democracy is Essential Facebook page.

In defiance of a heavy police presence, students protested the Government’s proposed cuts to universities, occupying City Road and blocking traffic. Police once again attempted to disperse the protest, issuing at least 16 fines to protesters.

The protest began with 8 contingents of less than 20 representing students from Law, Classics, Philosophy, Political Economy, Law, and Government, as well as the Women’s Collective and Wollongong University to protest education cuts.

Groups of approximately five police officers dotted campus, observing but not at first interfering with the separate protests.

This is a break from last week’s protest, where similar separate contingents were almost immediately dispersed by police.

This might be due to a different understanding of the NSW Police about the circumstances in which protests breach the Public Health Order No 4, which prohibits gatherings of more than 20 people gathered for a common purpose.

A University communication obtained by Honi states that NSW Police believe separate protests of less than 20 people do not constitute a breach of the Order where protesters hold different signs, as this is taken to mean that they do not have a “common purpose.” Differently from last week, each contingent held different banners.

Half an hour prior, the Sydney Branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) commenced an outdoor seminar, “Higher Education and Democratic Dissent”, on the Law Lawns in solidarity with the protests.

Almost a hundred students walking through Eastern Avenue, or lunching on the lawns, stopped to participate in the class.

Several academics, including Robert Boncardo from the USyd Casuals Network and NTEU Branch Committee member Nick Reimer spoke to the audience. As police looked on, Branch President Kurt Iveson delivered a lecture to the crowd about the ways in which the capitalist democracies limit dissent to acceptable means.

Protesters take Victoria Park. Photo: Lauren Lancaster.

“We advised the Police some of our academics were undertaking an education outdoor seminar. NSW police make their own decisions under the Public Health Order,” a University spokesperson told Honi.

Contingents then began to congregate on Eastern Avenue, chanting “No cuts, not fees, no corporate universities!” and “Who is Michael Spence? Michael Spence is the 1 per cent!”

Groups of police officers began to converge, as the student contingents merged and marched through the Law Lawns into Victoria Park. As the protest entered Victoria Park, chaotic scenes erupted as students sprinted across the park to take City Road.

Protesters began blocking in front of traffic, eventually sitting down in the street and chanting “ScoMo fuck you! We deserve a future too!”

Video: Nina Dillon Britton.

Additional police officers who had been stationed near Victoria Park and City Road joined the original police officers, blocking off oncoming traffic and encircling the protesters. 

The approximately 25 police officers present then put on gloves, and pulled protesters from the road onto the sidewalk. Protesters fled through gaps in the fence, and ran towards the University.

Another group of police, including two officers on galloping horses, ran to block the entrance to the University and stopped half the students from returning to campus.

Police then began issuing fines for breaches of move on orders and the Public Health Order No 4, which prohibits public gatherings of more than 20 people for a common purpose.

NSW Police stated that several people had been fined, but could not confirm the exact number due to it being an “ongoing operation.” Channel 9 reported that 30 people had been issued with fines, though it is unclear what this number is based on.

Several students who were issued with fines of at least $1000 for not complying with police move on orders have stated that they had not heard the move-on order. 

The order was not announced over megaphone by police until most of the crowd was already dispersed, and several people had already been fined.

Video: Nina Dillon Britton.

Protester Iggy Boyd told Honi that officers had taken the SD card from a camera he was holding when he was fined. The card contained footage of arrests being made. Officers told Boyd that it would be used as evidence for the common purpose of the protesters.

It appears many of those fined were organisers of today’s actions.

Former Environmental Officer Seth Dias told Honi that he witnessed police targeting people with megaphones and other protest materials. Dias, who was a marshal for one of the contingents was issued with a fine. He was also fined at a similar protest on 28 August.

On a note of hope, USyd alumni and member of the Chaser, Charles Firth, addressed a student debrief after the protest. “It’s important to remember that it’s completely winnable, through the 1990s we faced fee hikes, so we stormed the Quad and broke windows, and we won!” he said. 

“At least temporarily.”

Escalating protests to the Government’s Higher Education Bill and ongoing staff and course cuts at the University are expected for the coming weeks.

“Today was a phenomenal display of student anger and creativity,” SRC President Liam Donohoe who had the initial idea for today’s action told Honi. “We took City Road, and next time we’ll take even more!”

You can donate to the fund for protesters’ fines here.