Twenty fourteen was certainly an eventful year in politics, and higher education policy was one of the key issues on the national agenda. A number of activist groups around the country scored significant media coverage with a series of high-profile protests against the Abbott government’s education reforms.
But the controversy surrounding some of the more high-profile protest actions – such as the on-air ‘hijacking’ of ABC panel program Q and A by Sydney students – has prompted some to call for a different campaign approach.
UMSU’s new Education (Public Affairs) officer Conor Serong, who was a member of last year’s Education Action Network (EAN) and is also part of Young Labor, is one of those calling for a change of direction.
“The overwhelming majority of students – and citizens more broadly – oppose the government’s package, however even the most successful of rallies only manage to attract a proportionally small number of students.”
“I wish to appeal to a broader base through attempting to employ new, more accessible forms of protest – I’ll be in consultation with students from a range of backgrounds to try and make these as successful as possible,” he said.
However, VCA Student Association Campaigns Coordinator and Socialist Alternative member James Crafti disagreed publicly that a change in direction was a good idea:
“Because we should move away from the tactics that actually won last year? … Last year’s rallies and actions prior to the budget coming out was actually crucial for getting the largest turn out in over a decade to the one after the budget came out.”
“… many of the ALP hacks who run the union want to see the activist side of things wind up and focus instead on lobbying and an ‘election campaign’ [against] Abbott but in reality designed to get the ALP elected in two years.”
“…part of the reason for wanting big rallies is to say to any new ALP government we won’t accept anything other than improvements on education, ideally free education. The ALP started the cuts under Gillard,” he said.
Nonetheless, both camps said they would be on the ground during O-Week to promote the first student National Day of Action on 25 March. Rallies in all major cities are planned for that day, with the Melbourne rally starting at 2pm at the State Library.