‘Absolutely unconscionable’: Students protest Federal Budget

The rally was organised by the National Union of Students to address rising rates of student poverty.

Around 100 students, unionists and activists gathered outside Parliament House in Canberra today to protest the failings of the Federal Budget. 

Organised by the National Union of Students (NUS), the rally called on the Federal Government to end student poverty. Their key demands were for the Government to raise the rate of youth allowance, wipe student debt, lower the age of independence, and fix the rental crisis. 

Students were joined by representatives from the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU), the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and Federal members of the Greens, including Janet Rice, Stephen Bates and Mehreen Faruqi. 

NUS President Bailey Riley framed the budget as a “political choice” by the Labor party who had taken student votes for granted. “We know that they’ve refused to freeze HECS indexation this year, we know that they’re not going to change the age of Centrelink independence,” Riley said. The current age of Centrelink independence is 22.

“Why should you be voting Labor right now? Honestly, they’ve done nothing for young people,” Riley said.

NUS Disabilities Officer Isabella Harding spoke to how the cost of living crisis was affecting disabled students. She addressed the inadequacy of the Disability Support Pension, saying “it’s not enough,” referring to how recipient benefits are determined by their partner’s income.  

“We shouldn’t be encouraging financial dependence. That is a form of coercion in relationships,” Harding said. 

NSW Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi spoke to how the budget will fail to provide relief to students amidst the cost of living crisis, and how it is “absolutely unconscionable” for the government “to not take actions that are needed to lift people out of poverty”.

“You are going to be the first generation in memory who are going to be worse off than their parents’ generation, and I can tell you that I haven’t seen students doing it this rough in the 30 years that I have been in this country,” Faruqi said. 

Brisbane Greens MP Stephen Bates highlighted the potential for progressive policy as Labor now holds all mainland states and that the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate. “There’s literally nothing in their way,” Bates said. “The only obstacle to progress now in this country is the Labor Party.” 

The NUS will co-host another rally to protest the contents of the Federal Budget at Sydney Town Hall on Friday 19 May.