Staff, students protest against education cuts


On the May 8 national day of action against education cuts and undergraduate fees staff and students staged large demonstrations across the country.

Around Australia, demonstrators heard speakers from the National Union of Students (NUS), the National Tertiary Education and Industry Union (NTEU) and local student organisations explain what federal government policy on higher education would mean for access and equity, ridiculing government claims that undergraduate fees would increase access to university.

In Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, NTEU members walked off campuses and cancelled classes to join the rallies.

In some cities, the rallies were joined by representatives and members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), most notably in Canberra, where the local CPSU branch organised a stop-work so members could join the rally.

In Newcastle, Canberra and Brisbane, motions were passed in solidarity with the workers at BHP in Newcastle facing massive job losses.

In Sydney, Sean Healy reports that a very spirited demonstration by more than 4000 university students, university staff and high school students from Sydney and Wollongong met at Town Hall before marching on John Howard's offices, the offices of the Department of Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (DEETYA) and Sydney University administration.

Some 700 high school students walked off Sydney high schools in response to a call from the United Secondary Students Union, two of whose representatives, Paul Howes and Bronwen Powell, spoke outside Howard's office. Other features of the rally included speakers from the Aboriginal education unit at University of Technology, Sydney, Jumbunna, and a dramatic performance by College of Fine Arts students depicting the government's killing of public education.

At Sydney University, the rally unanimously decided to hold a tent city in the main quadrangle and to picket the administration building the following morning. A rally organised by the demonstrators on May 9 led to students occupying the vice-chancellor's office.

In Melbourne, Ben Reid writes, 2000 students and staff assembled outside the Museum for a march on DEETYA, RMIT and Melbourne University administration. At Melbourne University, students occupied the administration building in protest at the decision by Vice-Chancellor Alan Gilbert and the university council to introduce up-front fees for undergraduates in 1998.

In Adelaide, Natalie Woodlock reports, 300 students rallied outside Amanda Vanstone's office. They then marched to the Adelaide University vice-chancellor's office and stormed the building. Students occupied the building overnight after VC Mary O'Kane reaffirmed her commitment to introducing up-front fees in 1998.

Students organised a protest and sit-in at the university council meeting the following day and have resolved to continue the campaign until the council meets in June, when the final decision on up-front fees is expected to be made.

In Canberra, Amanda Lawrence relates, 1000 students and public sector workers held a spirited rally in Garema Place. The rally welcomed the guarantee given by the vice-chancellor of the Australian National University not to introduce up-front fees for 1998. Students felt their actions to date had forced this concession, but know it is only the first step in defeating the education cuts.

In Brisbane, Kathy Newnam and Conrad Barrett report that more than 500 students rallied on the University of Queensland and about 200 students at Griffith University.

At UQ, students then marched to the administration building, before ending at the undergraduate library, where students held a spontaneous teach-in, many rally participants contributing to the open platform with ideas on the way forward for the campaign.

At Griffith University, the rally marched to the administration building, which students briefly occupied, demanding no fees at Griffith University.

From Lismore, Nick Fredman reports that despite torrential rain and a last minute change of venue, more than 200 students and staff crowded into the union common room at Southern Cross University. The action highlighted opposition to both the government's cuts and the university's recent takeover of the union and the Students Representative Council.

After several speakers and a "street" theatre performance, students marched to the administration building, where the rally was addressed by Malcolm Marshall, who heads the "management committee" appointed to run the student organisation, and who is also president of the local Liberal Party branch. Marshall attempted to justify the takeover, based on minor inconsistencies in the SRC's audit, and was met by jeers from students.

More than 200 people rallied outside the university Chancellory in Newcastle, writes Alex Bainbridge. The recent victory of the campaign to stop cuts to library services was a feature of the rally. The administration had decided to close the Huxley Library — one of two general libraries at the university — but was forced to back down by several rallies of hundreds of students.

The vice-chancellor responded to student demands by making a "public" declaration at the rally that he has a personal commitment to public education and would write to Howard and Vanstone to reaffirm it.

In Perth, Michael Bramwell reports, up to 400 students and academic staff rallied. Union speakers stressed the links between government attacks on education and the Liberal state government's draconian "third wave" industrial relations legislation, which attacks unions and workers.

Corinne Glenn from the Student Unionism Network called on students and staff to show solidarity with unions and workers by attending the "workers' embassy" outside WA Parliament House. This move was opposed by office bearers from NUS West.

In Darwin, Tim Stewart relates, there was a spirited march and rally of around 70 students, staff and supporters. Gathering at the taxation office, they marched on the Austudy offices and then on the office of Senator Grant Tambling. At Tambling's office, a petition and letter demanding the abolition of HECS, increases in the corporate tax rate and the reversal of federal funding cuts were handed in.

About 500 secondary and tertiary students and university staff rallied and marched at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, report Mathew Munro and Tony Iltis. Speakers included federal Green Senator Bob Brown, who pointed to government handouts to corporations such as BHP and proposed that this money should be used to fund an accessible, free education system.

Despite the onset of heavy rain, students marched to the administration building, where Kylie Moon from Resistance pointed out that the vice-chancellor and the university council had a choice whether or not to implement fees and demanded that they publicly oppose the cuts.

Students tried to occupy the administration building, but the front doors were locked. Some students gained entry through an unlocked side door, but SRC personnel including the president intervened to oppose this. Students then marched around the campus before meeting to plan their next action.

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