National protests against fees, cuts

August 27, 1997

By Sean Healy

During the past week, rallies and protests on campuses throughout the country were organised to protest against the federal government's higher education policy, in particular its funding cuts to universities, fees for undergraduate places and the cutting back of income support for young unemployed and students through the common youth allowance (CYA).

The actions were part of a national week of action called by the National Union of Students and organised by activist groups.

In Melbourne and Hobart, anger at government attacks on education led students to occupy the finance offices of RMIT and the administration building of Tasmania University.

In Brisbane, Bernard Wunsch reports that more than 80 university, TAFE and high school students attended a rally in King George Square on August 20.

A representative from the NTEU, which covers academic and general staff on universities, QUT lecturer Gary MacLennan, said, "The NTEU will not sell out students. We will continue to oppose the government's attacks on education."

The rally marched noisily through to DEETYA, where a speak-out was held, observed by 16 police including a camera woman.

In Lismore, Elowyn Paitson reports that 100 students from Southern Cross University, Richmond River High and Kadina High and unemployed youth gathered in Spinx Park along with concerned members of the community.

Nick Fredman spoke on behalf of the Education Action Collective. Kathy O'Driscoll, of the SCU Women's Collective, outlined women's difficulties in higher education, describing how cuts to child-care disadvantage women seeking education.

Megan, from Lismore Resistance, gave details of the impact of the CYA on young people's standard of living and families.

The Rural and Town Youth Services and the Youth Income Protection Network also helped to organise the action. The protesters marched to the Austudy office — which refused to let them in — to present their demands before marching through town chanting in support of a livable income for all youth and "Education for all, not just the rich".

In Sydney, Jo Brown reports that some 200 people rallied on August 19 in Parramatta Park to hear speakers including NUS welfare officer Zane Whitehorn and Liz Humphries, welfare and research officer at the University of Western Sydney. A representative from ACOSS said that the CYA would make education even less accessible for disadvantaged students.

The rally marched through Parramatta mall, stopping outside local Liberal MP Ross Cameron's office. When Cameron attempted to address the crowd, students booed and whistled before marching off to the DEETYA offices, where they entered the foyer and chanted and sang for an hour.

An action on August 21 at the University of Sydney protested against the privatisation of education and introduction of fees. Students marched around campus, visiting sites including the veterinary science department, which has decided to under-enrol HECS students next year in order to allow more fee-paying students, and the Bosch lecture theatres, the proposed site of a new private hospital.

A small group of students briefly occupied the Financial Services Office and sent a solidarity message to the RMIT occupation.

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