Uni, high school students rally against cuts


Thousands of university and high school students took to the streets on August 29 as part of a national day of action called by the National Union of Students. The large turnout of high school students at only two weeks' notice added a new dimension to the campaign against the budget cuts to education.

From Sydney, Belinda Brear reports that 4000 gathered outside Town Hall, three quarters of whom were high school students. Many attended the rally under threat of suspension from their schools, and expressed their intention to rally again if the cuts go through. Resistance member Paul Howes from Blaxland High spoke on behalf of Students Against the Cuts (SAC), which organised the walkout.

Despite a smaller university student turnout because there was no strike by the National Tertiary Education and Industry Union, everyone came away with a feeling of increased solidarity and enthusiasm.

Students from Bathurst also attended the rally in Sydney.

Vicky Deller and Alison Dellit report from Melbourne that 700 students held a brief sit-in at BHP's offices as part of a 3000-strong tertiary and secondary student rally. The demonstration was organised by the Student Unionism Network, NUS and campus women's collectives. The United Secondary Students Union also mobilised, despite numerous threats of suspension.

Three hundred students marching back to the pub were confronted by police demanding the return of an allegedly stolen police hat. Police entered the pub and attempted to drag a student outside through the crowd.

Within 10 minutes there were more than 40 police in the area, 10 without name badges. More students were arrested, but were released after the crowd surrounded the police vans, chanting "The cops are out of control" to passers-by.

In Wollongong, Natasha Sinnet and Tony Iltis report, university students were joined by secondary students from more than 10 schools in a walkout organised by Resistance.

Keira High HSC student and Resistance member Shellie Braverman told the 400-strong rally, "Cuts to education and Austudy will make uni an impossible goal for many".

Catherine Blakely from Wollongong High said that her principal had told students attending the rally they were risking involvement in violence and wasting their time. Another secondary student said that students from Figtree High walking out "were faced with a wall of teachers threatening us all with suspension, expulsion and detention".

The rally unanimously passed a motion for the release of Dita Sari, Budiman Sujatmiko and other Indonesian activists facing possible execution "for doing no more than we are today".

Nick Soudakoff writes from Canberra that 300 students rallied in Union Court at the Australian National University, where Liberal Party election policies were burned, symbolising the broken promises of the Howard government.

Student Association president William Mackerras was booed off the platform when he tried to deflect accusations surrounding his attempts to de-mobilise and block funding to the campaign against education cuts.

Half of the crowd marched to the Chancellery, which was guarded by 40 police to prevent an occupation. Later, 50 students marched back to Union Court to have an impromptu Education Action Group meeting.

From Adelaide, Sam King reports, 600 high school and university students rallied and marched. The mood was one of outrage and an overwhelming desire to continue the struggle. At Liberal Party headquarters, an open microphone was held, with protesters calling for cuts to defence spending, not education.

A high school action network is being set up following a discussion amongst high school students from six schools after the rally.

Marty Drill reports from La Trobe University's Bendigo campus that a rally of university, secondary and TAFE students, supporters of the ABC, staff from Austudy, the CES and DSS was joined by supporters as it wound its way through the streets, finishing 150-strong outside the town hall.

Zanny Begg reports from Brisbane that John Howard's visit to a Liberal Party luncheon was disrupted by 200 noisy students. The liveliest contingent were high school students. Resistance member Jamie Meurant, who walked out of school with 30 others, explained that he was "outraged at the huge debt students are going to be left with".

The rally was smaller than previous actions. Posters did not arrive until two days beforehand. When activists from the University of Queensland rang NUS, they were told the rally had been cancelled. The student union at Queensland University of Technology put on a band afternoon which clashed directly with the rally.

The Community and Public Sector Union passed a motion calling for a strike in solidarity with the students but did not receive support from the national executive.

Neil Price writes from Darwin that 100 people attended a lunchtime rally on campus, adopting an Education Action Group resolution calling on "our elected representatives in the Senate to block the budget outright".

The rally also marked the end of a two-day hunger strike by 12 students, organised to draw attention to the effect of funding cuts on regional campuses.

Sarah Stephen reports from Hobart that 1000 people rallied, a third of whom were secondary students.

The march followed a coffin carried by pallbearers wearing academic gowns. Representing the death of free education, the coffin was laid outside federal member Brian Gibson's office

From Newcastle, Paul Simpson reports that 200 university students and staff rallied on July 27 outside a talk by Vice Chancellor Professor Roger Holmes, who has accepted the cuts.

Speakers noted the need to keep the focus on the federal government, while putting pressure on the VCs to oppose the cuts outright.

Other rallies were held in Geelong, Launceston, Lismore, Wagga Wagga, Cairns and Townsville.