Sydney police gave no warning before pepper spraying students

An ambulance officer helps a student after she was pepper sprayed by police. Photo: Peter Boyle

Police attacked students with pepper spray during a protest against university fee deregulation in Sydney on February 13.

About 30 students gathered to protest against education minister Christopher Pyne, who was giving the Inaugural Hedley Beare Memorial Lecture at the Sydney Masonic Centre. He planned to “outline the Australian government’s achievements in schools since coming to office”.

Police sprayed students to stop them entering the lecture to take part in an advertised Q&A with Pyne.

The students say the government’s plan to deregulate university fees will destroy higher education by creating a two-tiered US style system.

The National Tertiary Education Union has warned the plan will dramatically increase the cost of an undergraduate degree and some students will pay more than $100,000 for their degree.

Students trying to enter the Sydney Masonic centre where Christopher Pyne is speaking say they were pepper sprayed

— Rebecca Barrett (@becjbarr) February 13, 2015

Mia Sanders, a student representative from the University of Western Sydney, told Green Left Weekly police gave the students no warning. “It was a really peaceful group, and things escalated very quickly," she said. "Pyne had been inside for 20 minutes. We were nowhere near him.”

She said students had to quickly find milk to attend to the injured protesters. “About six people got maced and police didn’t attend to them. It was the students who had to call an ambulance, which arrived 40 minutes later.”

Ambulance and protesters attending to an injured protester. Photo: Peter Boyle.

The University of Sydney postgraduate representative association Education Officer was one of the students pepper sprayed. Brigitte said: "The police conduct at the protest against Pyne today was despicable. I was simply holding up a placard and chanting, and for that I was pepper sprayed. It is scary to think that the police force in this country are starting to pepper spray students standing up against the government's attacks on education.

“Apart from the violent police at the action, it was a resounding success. I had many conversations with people walking by about the deregulation of our universities, and all of them were supportive of our action."

Another protest against fee deregulation will be held on Wednesday March 25 at the University of Technology, Sydney at 2pm.

The peaceful protest before it was attacked by police. Photo: Rachel Evans.

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