Students responded to the budget in impressive numbers at an emergency National Union of Students national day of protest on 21 May.
Five thousand students marched in Melbourne, 3,000 in Sydney, 1,000 in Canberra and hundreds more across the country. It was the biggest national student mobilisation since student demonstrations against the Howard government more than 10 years ago.
It was yet another example of visceral hatred for this government and its budget.
Students are rightfully outraged. If passed, the budget will allow unlimited fee increases and a near total demolition of student and youth welfare. It will usher in a US-style education model.
Pyne, Abbott and Hockey have deceitfully – and unsuccessfully – argued many things to deter students from protesting. They have said that students are a privileged and therefore duty bound to pay enormous fees. They have said, somewhat contradictorily, that they are not raising fees. And they have proclaimed that only a fringe group of students want to protest.
It’s all lies. And the turn-out to the protests shows that students are not swayed by the pathetic PR of Liberal ministers, who can barely be bothered to hide their glee at the prospect of gutting public education and crippling students with debt.
Domestic and international students spoke at the demonstrations about the impact of fee increases. They related accounts of many students who are already making plans to withdraw from university because the changes will make unbearable their already financially difficult situation.
And at all of the demonstrations, speakers referred to the numerous protests that have taken place against Liberal ministers in recent weeks. Each speaker was met with raucous cheers.
The Sydney demonstration was much larger than anticipated and 10 times the size of recent student protests in that city. This in large part was due to the Sydney students’ earlier protests against Pyne on QandA, and the follow-up demonstration against Julie Bishop at Sydney University.
Sydney University activists alone mobilised 1,000 students. In Melbourne the largest cheers came in response to an announcement that Pyne and Abbott had cancelled an appearance at Deakin University due to fear of student reprisals.
Speakers from both the Greens and the ALP used the demonstrations as a platform to make a public pledge to block the deregulation of fees and other cuts to education. Students need to hold the politicians to this commitment by continuing the campaign.
Students were not only protesting the deregulation of higher education. Many homemade placards and banners indicated that students want to see the whole budget blocked and the government brought down.
In Melbourne and Sydney, we burned copies of the budget and chanted “Burn this budget!” as we marched through the streets.
This is a budget that hurts everyone. There is no doubt that students will continue to protest, not only for our rights but also for Medicare, for welfare and for pensions. And we will be right behind our trade unions (which had a presence on the student demo) and all of the action that they take against this budget.