Words and photography by Martin Ditmann
Left-wing Melbourne student activists have grabbed attention after chaining themselves to a ladder and staging a sit-in at the university’s Future Students Information Centre.
The snap protest comes on the day that parliament prepares to debate the Liberal government’s controversial higher education reforms, and follows similar action at Monash and La Trobe.
At around midday on Wednesday, Melbourne students Margaret Dunleavy and Josh Tynan chained themselves by neck to a ladder in the Swanston Street centre.
A contingent staged a further sit in outside.
The protestors were demanding that Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis condemn the government’s fee deregulation moves and support free universal university education.
“If the only people who are benefits from these changes to university fees are the rich, that’s unacceptable,” Dunleavy said.
It was supported by a raft of other parts of the student activist movement, including several officers of the University of Melbourne Student Union.
“Our main goal for today was a huge social media presence, as well as the messages of solidarity we received from other student activists across Australia and politicians,” Dunleavy said.
The unique protest received considerable attention on Facebook and Twitter—receiving support from high profile politicians such as Greens senator Scott Ludlam and MP Adam Bandt. The group received support from student groups and activists across the country.
“Power to you all,” Ludlam tweeted.
It followed a concerted effort by the activists, who shared a large amount of photos and videos and targeted key activists and reporters. The protestors urged the use of the hashtags “#FREEEDUCATION” and “#MULOCKON”.
Others, however, were less favourable.
“This protest is another disgusting, unnecessary and unrepresentative case of the extreme left on campus taking the most silly approach to politics,” Australian Liberal Students’ Federation spokesperson Matthew Lesh said.
“I welcome the federal government’s higher education policies that will make our system fairer and expand access to university,” he said.
Ultimately, the protestors have vowed to continue their actions.
“We’re very passionate about the fact that education is not a privilege that is extended only to the rich – that it’s a right extended to all of us,” Dunleavy said.