Students protesting against education cuts were attacked by police in Melbourne on Wednesday. Seven were arrested during the demonstration. Sarah Garnham, spokesperson for the Victorian Education Action Network which organised the rally, told Red Flag:
“Victoria Police clearly had a premeditated agenda of attacking our peaceful protest. They came out of nowhere. Riot cops moved in on the crowd and pulled people out. One of the first people they arrested, Lauren Stevenson, was unconscious as they pulled her towards the paddy wagon. We attempted to get an ambulance to her, but police said an ambulance would not be allowed to attend because she was under arrest. So they put her in the paddy wagon unconscious and drove away.”
Among those arrested was Jay Wymarra, the 2014 First Nations Officer at the La Trobe student union. Garnham says that his arrest was no coincidence: “Organisers of the protest believe this is in accordance with the racial discrimination that is well known in Victoria Police; they regularly harass and arrest indigenous people.”
Wymarra spoke to Red Flag after his release from police custody, saying: “Under no circumstances should any student stand for this kind of hostile reaction from the state. No student should have to bear the brunt of some bureaucrat’s decision to slash nearly $3 billion out of education. This is our education. The only ones who should be defining it is us and our educators and of course our unions.”
Jessica Lenehan, recently elected Education Officer at La Trobe University and an activist in the La Trobe Socialist Alternative student club, was also at the rally. La Trobe students had a particular incentive to join the anti-cuts protest today. Their university administration has just announced devastating cutbacks of $65 million. Lenehan told Red Flag:
“We had a peaceful protest. After starting at Parliament House we marched to Liberal Party headquarters. While we were there we threw a couple of shoes at the building, we chalked some slogans on the ground. Nothing violent. But at a certain point the police clearly decided this was unacceptable, and marched through shoving people out of the way, and made a couple of arrests.
“They dragged one woman away. They shoved her into a police van, and another man was arrested. After that the police again and again charged the crowd. They dragged people away, they beat people up. It was just an incredibly brutal display.
“Accusations of protester violence from the police are ludicrous. We told them what our intentions were. We told them we were marching to Liberal headquarters. We had informed them about shoes being thrown at the building. It’s just ridiculous, especially given there were so many police there. Many times more than were necessary for the protest. They were deliberately trying to intimidate people out of protesting.”
Declan Murphy, recently elected Education Officer at Monash Student Association, explained how the police attacks continued even after demonstrators had left Liberal Party headquarters:
“Some of us decided to march down to East Melbourne police station to make a formal complaint. The police told us we were allowed to do this. Nonetheless on the way down the police assaulted the demonstration four additional times. I think a further four people were arrested. They were clearly targeting non-white people and women who happened to find themselves on the fringes of the demonstration.
“Then, on Swanston Street, after we’d decided not to continue marching on to East Melbourne police station and we were coming up to Trades Hall, they assaulted the rally again and arrested another person. It was a clear and despicable attempt by the police, but we will not be intimidated and we’ll keep protesting both for our democratic right to demonstrate and for a fair and equitable education system.
“People are a bit shocked by the disproportionate response of the police but are also quite defiant. We just had a post rally meeting where we got together and decided how we’re going to respond as a collective campaign. The clear vibe was that there would be more demonstrations. We’re not going to put up with attempts by police to shut us down.”