Students protest against loans scheme


Students protest against loans scheme

Tertiary students demonstrated in four capital cities on August 13 against the federal government's introduction of an Austudy loans scheme.

The scheme, according to leaks prior to the budget, gives students the "option" of a $2 for $1 conversion of part of their existing grant into a loan. Together with the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) deferred fee, it will mean that many students will leave university with debts of up to $20,000.

In Melbourne more than 800 tertiary students gathered at a protest in City Square called by the National Union of Students as part of its August 13 National Day of Action. The protest was also supported by the Cross-Campus Education Network.

Students marched to the offices of the Department of Employment, Education and Training, and then to the magistrates' court, where five activists, arrested in dawn raids on April 14, were to appear the next day. The march continued to ALP state headquarters, and finally returned to City Square.

Alex Bainbridge, a Resistance spokesperson, spoke at the protest about the need to build a political alternative to the ALP, and pointed to the example of New Zealand NewLabour.

In Sydney more than 300 students marched to Town Hall. The protest was organised by the Cross Campus Education Network as part of the National Day of Action.

Rallying at Town Hall, students dressed as slaves, with chains representing debt. The students were then auctioned to the lowest bidding employer, and the action finished with a mass limbo under a "poverty" line.

Speakers at the rally included Aaron Magner from NUS, Denis Fitzgerald from the Teachers' Federation and TAFE student Eric Vigo. University of Western Sydney student Karen Wells attacked the imposition of fees in education and the declining level of funding. Stephen Kelly from the Young Christian Workers denounced the youth "training" wage and ALP attacks on young people in general.

Sydney students are planning a post-budget picket of the ALP office in Sussex Street on Friday, August 21, at 1 p.m.

Brisbane students staged a lively protest and rally at which speakers emphasised the need not to only fight the loans scheme, but also to demand free education for all.

Early in the rally, police attempted to provoke a violent reaction from students. Banners were torn from their poles by police to prevent the poles from being taken through the Queen St Mall. Students did not respond to the obvious attempt to create an excuse for arrests.

Police also barred protesters entry at the Department of Education, Employment and Training. A minority of students attempted to push their way through police lines, but were repulsed.

The overwhelming majority of protesters voted to discontinue attempts to enter the DEET building. The march proceeded to the Mall for an open forum to discuss the issues facing the campaign. Open forums were held on a number of street intersections and outside the Brisbane Stock Exchange.

Approximately 150 students attended a rally in High Street Mall, Fremantle. After street theatre, students and shoppers heard speakers condemning the proposed loans scheme and youth wages. "A living income for all" was the theme of the rally. Following the rally, students marched and chanted their way to education minister John Dawkins' office.