Over seventy police, including a large number of police horses and riot police, have shut down the National Day of Action rally this afternoon called in conjunction by several education activist groups, including the University of Sydney SRC, the UNSW Education Collective and Macquarie Uni Students Against Uni Cuts.
The rally was called in response to a number of cuts by both the Morrison government and various University administrations to staff jobs and the quality of Australian tertiary education.
The rally was planned for 1pm outside Fisher Library. However, in the hour prior, several police vehicles had already arrived outside the library, and at least twenty police officers were standing along the length of Eastern Avenue.
At 1pm, before the rally could begin, police issued a formal move-on order, determining that protesters had gathered in a group larger than twenty “for a common purpose”. They also threatened all attendees with fines up to $1000. This echoed the justification used by police to shut down a similar education rally late last month.
Police then began clearing the outside of Fisher Library, as well as pushing a contingent made up of Solidarity faction members towards the library from the F23 Administration Building. During this time, Jack Mansell, one of the SRC Education Officers, was apprehended and fined.
Others who were peacefully protesting and chanting were also indiscriminately apprehended and given a fine. Vinil Kumar, SRC Mature Age Officer, was seized almost a minute after delivering a speech. SRC Environment Officer Sofie Nicolson was also apprehended whilst trying to walk away from police. Around 10 attendees in total have been issued fines.
Honi understands that no formal arrests were made. However, police officers were heard telling those that they apprehended that they were being ‘placed under arrest’. It was also heard that police were targeting a specific list of people, including organisers from various political factions and activist collectives.
David Brophy, a history lecturer at USyd, stated: “Yesterday I had 20+ students in a room for a tutorial. But today, Michael Spence call[ed] the riot squad onto campus to shut down a rally against fee hikes, on the grounds that it exceeded the 20 person limit. “Let’s pick ’em off one by one” was what I heard one of the cops say.”
At around 1:20pm, riot police arrived alongside several police horses. The horses were employed to disperse the remaining protesters onto Parramatta Road through the Footbridge entrance.
SRC President Liam Donohoe told Honi: “The SRC condemns the police brutality at today’s intended National Day of Action. We express solidarity to all attendees, particularly those still detained and dealing with fines. The SRC will contribute to bails and fines however we can. We won’t be deterred by police actions, and we fully intend to continue protesting regardless of how violent and brutal they are.”
Honi reached out to a USyd spokesperson for comment, who said: “While we were aware of plans for a protest on campus, we did not try to prevent it from taking place.”
“This year, we’ve engaged with our student representatives to support the development of COVID safe plans for events in line with NSW Health advice. We’ve also emphasised the current 20-person limit on public outdoor gatherings, under the NSW government’s COVID-19 public health orders.”
“The event was publicly promoted, and NSW Police makes its own decisions under the Public Health Order.”
As for why classes exceeding 20 people can gather indoors and not an outdoor protest, the spokesperson said: “The University is considered an essential service alongside many others such as schools and supermarkets and is generally exempt from the 4 square metre requirements, however we’re continuing to encourage physical distancing wherever possible.”
More to come.