On March 26, thousands of students participated in a national day of action called by the National Union of Students in protest against federal government proposals to replace Austudy with a loans scheme, and against the Higher Education Contributions Scheme (HECS).
The protests went ahead despite a March 25 announcement by higher education minister Peter Baldwin that loans would not be introduced immediately. Students also took up the issues of poverty-level Austudy payments and the steady extension of fees into more areas of the education system. Austudy is now available to only 40% of students, and payments are well below the poverty line.
In Sydney, reports Julia Perkins, about 500 students joined a march from Hyde Park to the Department of Education and Training (DEET). The protest was organised by the Cross Campus Education Network.
In Melbourne, Dirk Welsford and Vannessa Hearman report a rally of 3000 in the City Square. Speakers included Rob Houghton of NUS, Chris Raab from Melbourne University, and representatives from the Public Sector Union and the Union of Academics.
At the end of a march to Parliament House, four students were arrested as a handful of police tried to prevent the students occupying the steps in front of the building. When a crowd of about 200 surrounded the paddy wagon, police took the names of the four and released them, saying they would be charged on summons. A few protesters verbally abused the majority who wanted to concentrate on the education issue rather than the clash with police.
In Brisbane, about 600 participated in a rally organised by Students Against Cutbacks, the University of Technology Student Guild and NUS. Griffith Liberal Club president Brad Woods was jeered when he attempted to defend the opposition's Fightback! package.
Protesters marched from King George Square to the Commonwealth Government Office, where they occupied the foyer. Speakers called for Austudy payments to be increased to 120% of the poverty line, and for reduction of the age for the independent rate to 18. Later, at DEET offices, 10 protesters were arrested in scuffles with about 50 police. A protest was held outside police headquarters the following morning.
In Adelaide, about 500 heard speakers including Carla Stacey from NUS, Bill Cook of the SA Institute of Teachers, and Elizabeth Morgan from the Council of Social Services.