About 200 unionists, refugee activists and students rallying in Melbourne on April 8 outside a Liberal Party fundraiser to celebrate 20 years since the election of the Howard government, were attacked by police on horses and the indiscriminate use of pepper spray.
The Age reported Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy as well as John Howard himself spoke at the $1100-a-head party fundraiser. Several state and federal former and current ministers and MPs also attended the event.
The Refugee Action Collective initiated a protest out the front demanding: “Close Manus, close Nauru, free the refugees”. Student activists and CFMEU members also joined the protest against Federal government attacks on higher education and workers' rights. Students held placards and chanted slogans such as "No ifs, no buts, no education cuts".
About 50 uniformed police, as well as five mounted police and some Australian Federal Police jostled with protesters who yelled "scum" and "shame" at arriving guests. Police attacked the protest with horses and pepper sprayed about 20 people, including an ABC camera operator.
Stephen Jolly, a Socialist councillor at the City of Yarra who spoke at the rally, said police overreacted to the protest. "We've got a couple hundred uni students and the police are acting like it's al Qaeda," he said.
One of the protesters, Matt Munro, said he was sprayed in the eyes and mouth at close range after questioning an officer who had allegedly punched his friend. "I was just trying to protect a friend and there was no need to spray me," he said.
He and about 20 other people were treated by ambulances at the scene.
The protest came two days after student protesters clashed with riot police inside Sydney University's Fisher Library.
Students were protesting against the Coalition's proposal to deregulate university fees and the presence of federal education minister Simon Birmingham on campus to adjudicate a round of the Sydney University Liberal Club's John Howard Debating Cup.
The protest was in response to recent comments by Birmingham that the government's controversial fee deregulation plan, which was shelved by the Coalition late last year, was back on the table.
Student magazine Honi Soit reported that after about 15 minutes of chanting and speeches, riot police formed a barricade around the group of about 30 students and forcibly removed them from the venue. Some were carried up stairs and pushed out the front doors. In the process, the security door on the main entry to Fisher library was severely damaged.
The police and riot squad had been pre-emptively called onto campus. Members of campus security indicated to Honi Soit that the police presence was requested by the debate organisers.
SRC Welfare Officer April Holcombe told Honi Soit: “We were peacefully standing outside the venue when police came and violently pushed everyone out of the building, viciously assaulting an Aboriginal woman in the process.”
Liam Carrigan, SRC Education Officer and an organiser of the protest, said: “It is despicable that Birmingham thinks he can step onto campus after the announcement that the government's higher education policy remains to be deregulating fees, a move that will lock lower SES students out of education and destroy accessible education in Australia.
“It is important that the student movement remains militant in opposing these politicians on campus.”