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Students burn Pyne effigy in protest

Milly Ellen reports on Wednesday afternoon’s protest.

Wednesday afternoon saw students march through the CBD and burn an effigy of Education Minister Christopher Pyne in protest against changes to higher education policy.

The Sydney University march contingent consisted of a number of groups, including representatives from the National Tertiary Education Union, the National Union of Students, the Sydney University SRC and the Sydney University Postgraduate Students’ Association.

They started at Fisher Library, moved to UTS to join with other protesters and then marched into the CBD as a bloc.

The USyd rally first heard from SRC Education Officer Eleanor Morley, who told protesters the issue was especially important with the impending tabling of the Higher Education Bill in parliament.

“These deregulating policies are due to be heard in a week, so this is our last chance to let them know that we will not stand for their discriminatory legislation,” she said.

Although Wednesday’s rally was significantly smaller than the National Day of Action protest earlier in the year, Morley said the level of involvement in the protests against the changes to higher education fees had not waned, and that students must remain engaged.

“We know that some members in opposition like the ALP and Palmer United are also opposed to [fee deregulation], but will only propose amendments to the bill. We want it completely abolished,” she said.

NTEU representative Glen Smyth also addressed the crowd, highlighting the inability of various Liberal senators to account for student’s wishes and their continued ignorance towards concerns raised during the protest efforts.

He said students had no other options apart from protest to ensure their voices were heard and called for USyd Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence to “come out in support of students, not in support of fee deregulation.”

At UTS, NUS representative Chloe Rafferty spoke out against Chris Pyne’s comments regarding women at university, denouncing them as “sexist, ignorant and blatantly wrong”. Rafferty then wished Pyne “a very unhappy birthday” and got the crowd to agree that he is a “lizard man”.

The recent scandal surrounding Frances Abbott receiving a $60,000 scholarship to the Whitehouse Institute of Design was also the subject of a popular chant.

The procession then moved up George St, marching towards Town Hall. A stop was made at the intersection of George and Bathurst St where the protestors were asked to take a seat and witness the burning of a cardboard cut-out of Christopher Pyne to chants of “Chris Pyne, fuck you, we deserve a future too.” The burning effigy drew cheers, and police quickly ordered the crowd to move off the road and towards Town Hall.

Once there, Greens senator Lee Rhiannon delivered a speech discussing the potential for student debt to be sold to large corporate conglomerates leading to “profits for them and increased, interest-laden debt for students”. A representative from the international student community also gave an speech decrying the imminent changes to student fees, stating that it would disproportionately affect international students and was inherently discriminatory.

Approximately 40 police officers supervised the rally, with the commander on duty describing the protest as “surprisingly civil, maybe apart from the effigy burning”. He added “I think we’re all appreciative that the organisers stuck to their preplanned route and didn’t cause a major disturbance.”

Another National Day of Action is planned for August 31 in anticipation of the Higher Education Bill being passed.

Photo: Milly Ellen