By Natasha Simons
More than 15,000 students and academic staff across the country rallied, marched, struck and occupied against university fees on March 23. The demonstrations were part of a National Day of Action called by last December's No Fees Activists Conference, and was sponsored by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA). Members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) also joined the demonstrations after cancelling lectures.
The theme was "No Fees for Degrees", with most states taking up demands to increase education funding, for free education and abolition of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS).
In Adelaide, Philippa Stanford reports, a spirited contingent from Adelaide University marched to join the rally at Victoria Square, swelling the demonstration to 4000. The rally was organised by the South Australian Education Network. Speakers included representatives from the NTEU and NUS, the president of Adelaide University Student Representative Council, and Emma Webb from the South Australian Education Network.
Webb, also a Resistance activist, said, "The ALP has sold students out. We need to organise to make the May 3 National Day of Action even larger than today."
The demonstrators then marched to the Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET), where they heard further speakers, including a representative from CAPA who spoke strongly about the need for free education and received a huge cheer.
Students marched on to the University of South Australia, where as many as possible entered the building and presented representatives of University Council with a petition against the introduction of up-front fees for the graduate certificate "legal practice". The university reps responded by announcing that the fee would not be introduced for another two years.
Meanwhile, inside the law building, a group of students began an occupation. As those who had left the demonstration for the "free beer" NUS had organised, heard word of the occupation, many returned to the university and joined in.
Tammy Franks, who chaired the rally on behalf of the National Union of Students, was overheard telling Law Faculty reps that the rally organisers did not endorse the occupation. However, other rally organisers were part of the occupation.
In the end, a meeting of 70 students occupying the building decided they were not a big enough force at this stage to maintain an occupation, but would meet again to organise future actions.
From Brisbane, Nikki Ulasowski reports that 1000 loud and angry students and academic staff rallied at King George Square and marched to the DEET building. Organised by the Free Education Network, speakers included representatives from CAPA, QUT Student Guild, UQ Union and NUS.
In Hobart, recounts Carol Mitchell, 300 spirited students rallied at Franklin Square, then marched to the office of Duncan Kerr, federal ALP minister for justice. A contingent of around 50 high school students joined the demonstration.
John Greenhill from the NTEU spoke about the need for young people to send a message to the ALP government against user-pays education and said his union opposed HECS and postgraduate fees. Simon Vendera from CAPA and Chris Lane from the Education Union emphasised education as a right. Sophie Muller from NUS said that fees should be abolished and education funding increased. She urged students to show their feelings on this issue through their vote in the next elections.
In Canberra, which has been the centre of a large campaign against up-front fees, Alison Dellit reports that more than 600 students rallied at the Australian National University before marching to the city centre. ANU Students Association secretary and Resistance activist Sarah Stephen spoke about the national campaign against Labor's attacks on education and urged students to get involved in the no fees campaign. John Passant, a lecturer at ANU, read a message of solidarity on behalf of the NTEU. Hamish McPherson, SA president, also addressed the rally.
The demonstrators then marched to Garema Place via the Chancellery building, the site of the nine-day student occupation in September, where they presented the head of Buildings and Grounds with a bill for the cost of up-front fees. The bill, which included the cost of living on Austudy below the poverty line, was organised in response to a bill of $143,000 for "costs associated with the student occupations of the Chancellery" that was given by the university to the Students Association earlier this year.
At Garema Place, the demonstration came across a rally organised by Australians Against Further Immigration. Students chanted "Racists out", while police looked nervous and carted off one AAFI member. The students then marched to the DEET offices where there was an open platform.
On the way back to campus, a scuffle with police broke out and 17 students were arrested and locked in police vans for allegedly blocking traffic. The rest of the students then sat down on the road; police responded by releasing all those arrested.
From Melbourne, Di Quin reports that 5000 students and academic staff marched to Parliament House and then on to the ALP state offices. Lisa Farens from the Student Unionism Network (SUN) spoke about the need to fight for free education, as did John Graham, NUS national president. Graham urged students to get out to high schools and also to win the community to supporting the students demands.
A representative from the NTEU also addressed the rally. One NTEU member was reprimanded by his employers for cancelling tutorials; he was the only academic in his department to cancel lectures and is seeking the support of the NTEU and SUN.
In Perth, Arun Pradhun relates, a meeting of 250 students at University of Western Australia voted against fees and to support the May 3 National Day of Action. At Curtin University, 20 students met to discuss further action.
More than 2000 students came on buses from all over New South Wales to demonstrate at Wollongong University, reports Freya Pinney. The demonstration was organised by the Cross Campus Education Network and the National Union of Students.
Speakers included representatives from the Koori community, NTEU and NUS. Students then marched through an obstacle course of "red tape" and a vice chancellor and Paul Keating on stilts collecting up-front fees. Students debated whether to occupy the administration building. While there was initially a strong sentiment to storm the building, the vote was lost after some of the organisers of the demonstration said students should occupy their own campus building, not those at Wollongong University.
"Since the organising for the NSW action had occurred before the start of campus, most students had not had a say in placing it at Wollongong Uni. The overwhelming feeling at the end of the day was that this was just the beginning, and the May 3 National Day of Action needed to be even bigger", said Pinney.
In Darwin, according to Tim Stewart, 200 students rallied at the Northern Territory University. Speakers included Helen Parish, vice president of the Students Union, Trish Crossins from the NTEU and Paul Ruguska from the Fine Arts Faculty. Jean Loke from CAPA told the crowd that when she was campaigning for free education 25 years ago, she never expected to be doing it again 25 years later. Students had forced the government to introduce free education before, and it was up to them to do it again.
Education Action Group member and Resistance activist Sally Mitchell chaired the rally and encouraged students to get involved in EAG and build the May 3 National Day of Action. Ninety students put their name on the EAG mailing list.