I was arrested for protesting the housing crisis

21 February 2023
Cherish Kuehlmann

I was arrested by New South Wales Police at midnight last Friday after organising a protest for housing justice.

The cops came to my house and detained me on a charge of “aggravated trespass”. I was taken into custody before being released at 4am. The charge is serious—a guilty verdict carries a maximum penalty of twelve months in prison and/or a $13,200 fine. It is an intimidation tactic by the police.

The student protest earlier that day rallied outside the Reserve Bank of Australia in Martin Place, demanding immediate measures to ease the housing crisis, including rent caps and higher taxes on corporations to pay for public housing.

Low-income renters and struggling homeowners are feeling the worst effects of the housing crisis. Landlords are jacking up rents or refusing to open their investment properties to renters at all. More than 164,000 properties in the Greater Sydney area sit empty while 163,000 people are on social housing waitlists across the state. Meanwhile, the Big Four banks have raked in record profits from interest on ballooning household debt.

Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe recently told a Senate estimates hearing that “the country is better off from having strong, resilient, effective banks”. Better off for who? For the rich and powerful who are benefitting in this crisis—the bosses, the bank owners, the wealthy landlords, and the federal and state governments who back them up.

This is not an isolated attack on our democratic right to protest. In 2022, the Perrottet Liberal government passed the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill with the support of the ALP. The new laws make it a serious crime to protest on major roads or near major facilities.

Climate activist Violet Coco was last year sentenced to fifteen months in jail, eight without parole, for merely blocking one lane of traffic on Sydney Harbour Bridge for 25 minutes. (She has been released from custody pending an appeal.)

Attacks on democracy need to be publicly opposed and fought. The laws are a threat to anyone trying to fight for a better world.

We will keep up the campaign against the banks, the government and the landlords. Housing should be a human right, not a commodity.

Join the next protest organised by the National Union of Students and “GET A ROOM: Students for Affordable Housing”: Friday 24 February, 5:30pm at Sydney Town Hall.

Cherish Kuehlmann is the UNSW Student Representative Council education officer.

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