Over thirty police have shut down a small student protest this afternoon called by the Sydney University Education Action Group. Police issued a move on order based on protesters being on campus “for a common purpose”, and threatened to fine everyone should they not comply with the order.
Despite students complying with the direction, police detained two protesters, and said they would be issued with infringement notices expected to be $1000 each.
Protesters were adhering to social distancing requirements, in addition to the vast majority of attendees wearing masks.
Josh Lee, one of the protesters issued with an infringement notice, told Honi: “The hypocrisy of the NSW Government and police is blatant. They are refusing to take proper action to combat this virus. While 300 people are allowed in pubs and casinos, thousands pack into schools, shopping centres, and footy matches, and up to 500 can participate in community sporting events, they are cracking down on responsibly organised protests of 20 people spaced out in large outdoor areas.”
“That’s what they are trying to establish now, that all protests are effectively banned, and for the foreseeable future. But the things we are protesting about – opposing job cuts, cuts to Jobseeker, fighting to make Black Lives Matter, demanding action on climate change – these are issues we need to protest about now more than ever.”
SRC Education Officer Jack Mansell said, “It’s clearly pretty cynical when the cops come down, repress and arrest students or Indigenous people protesting in an extremely safe way that adheres to all known health guidelines.”
Today’s police response follows similar action taken on Tuesday, where police issued a move on order to Black Lives Matter protesters at The Domain, minutes before the event was set to begin. Several protesters were also detained and issued with infringement notices.
Chaired by Mansell, the protest addressed cuts to education at both a national and local level. Speakers referenced spikes in staff redundancies at universities across the country, cuts to courses and funding for universities, increased costs of degrees and the overall diminished quality of tertiary education in Australia.
Yasmine Johnson, a science student and member of the USyd branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), noted that USyd Vice Chancellor Michael Spence has taken no salary cut while numerous casual staff have been made redundant in the university’s financial fallout as a result of COVID-19.
“As we’ve seen on campus after campus, vice chancellors are proving that they’re happy to keep on taking, regardless of whether staff have already taken pay cuts or voluntary redundancies or anything else.”
“A redundancy of any type is still a redundancy, leaving remaining staff overworked.”
Liam Donohoe, President of the USyd SRC, argued that students and staff should be fighting back against course and staff cuts together.
“The lack of work [for staff] is linked specifically to what we as students want to resist, which is a lack of course options and a lack of diversity in what we’re able to to study.”
Donohoe also addressed the impact fee hikes would have on regional universities, who lack the financial strength of larger universities like USyd.
“Universities like La Trobe [and Wollongong] are already looking down the barrel of significant funding and revenue crises, and [the nation-wide fee hikes and cuts to funding and courses] are only going to add to that.”
Donohoe also drew attention to the devastating effects of cuts in overall funding to areas like environmental sciences and medical sciences.
“We’re going to have less environmental scientists, we’re going to have less medical scientists, we’re going to have less young people trying to grapple with the problems that are causing such significant issues for us right now.”
The snap protest was called as one of several actions across the country to oppose Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan’s proposed cuts to tertiary education, building toward the upcoming National Day of Action on August 28, at the beginning of Semester 2.