NSW Police threaten $11,000 fine for safely protesting uni job cuts

Students protest cuts to education at University of Sydney on September 15. Photo: Aman Kapoor

Staff and students efforts to protest the federal government’s refusal to help universities and the University of Sydney management’s job cuts on September 16 were thwarted by NSW Police, who again used the pandemic as an excuse to stop people from exercising their democratic rights.

The protest was organised by Staff and Students Say NO CUTS and Sydney University Education Action Group, which teamed up with a contingent from the National Tertiary Education Union.

NSW police arrested and charged activist Adam Adelpour under COVID-19 health regulations, detaining him overnight at the Newtown Police Station after he refused bail conditions that included a personal curfew not to go on to the University of Sydney campus. Police dropped the conditions on his release.

Adelpour faces six months in jail or an $11,000 fine under the Public Health Act 2010.

This is the first time anyone has faced such a hefty charge under COVID-19 regulations for attending a protest in NSW.

Nine other protesters were given fines of $1000 each.

Adelpour described the NSW Police’s decision to lay charges as a “major attack on the right to protest in NSW”.

“The protests at Sydney University yesterday did not breach COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, as protesters gathered in groups of less than 20 people [and they were] widely dispersed across campus.”

He said the NSW Police had “made it clear they are determined to prevent demonstrations of any kind”.

Police claimed the protest was “unauthorised”. However demonstrations in NSW are not required to be “authorised” under the Crimes Act unless participants want to march on the road and require protection from traffic infringement laws.

Adelpour, who studies at the university, said students and staff are concerned about management’s cuts of thousands of jobs. He said the protest was also aimed at the federal government which has chosen not to help public universities with JobKeeper. However, it is helping private universities.

Sydney University management has floated plans to cut 30% of its staff.

The Sydney branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) on September 17 passed a motion condemning the actions of NSW Police and in support of the democratic right of staff and students to protest.

Markela Panegyres, a member of that NTEU branch, told Green Left that the motion was adopted unanimously.

Adelpour will appear in Newtown local court on October 8.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help pay the students’ fines.

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