Students divided over Mirabella protest

Monday, 19 May, 2014

Words and photos by Mikaela Davis
Tweets and videos by Kate Lawrence

Students of a first year politics class were left frustrated after a protest against Sophie Mirabella led by the Socialist Alternative (SAlt) organisation interrupted their lecture.

As a newly appointed part-time Public Policy Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Ms Mirabella was invited to speak to the first-year cohort, but was unable to begin.

After 25 minutes, Ms Mirabella was escorted out of the lecture theatre by police when the members of SAlt swarmed around her and it was looking like it could become violent.

Although entertained, the politics students were annoyed by the disruption that the protest had caused.

“It was a potentially valuable learning experience that was tarnished by protesters who weren’t even members of our class,” front-row student Shari Lohardjo told Farrago.

“This was definitely the wrong time and place for something like this to happen… it cost us students our time, not to mention the fact that we all paid to attend this class”.

Many of the students recognised that in a democracy everyone is entitled to freedom of speech and that SAlt had the right to protest.

“I’m fine with Socialist Alternative protesting with their megaphones to and from lectures they disagree with,” Xavier Boffa—another student from that lecture—said. “That said, harassing and assaulting staff and students is not an expression of free speech, and has no place in our society”.

The protest was mostly about the 2014-2015 budget cuts in the lead up to SAlt’s rally ‘Emergency Rally Against Cuts and Fee Hikes’.

“As you can both see and hear in the video, members of Socialist Alternative were both physically and verbally assaulted by students in the class who support the Liberal Party and their ruling class agenda,” Robert Narai—a supporter of SAlt—argued on his Facebook page.

However, as many students pointed out, Ms Mirabella was not there to speak about policy.

“Love her or hate her Sophie has experience in politics, her lecture was not meant to be about her political views anyway, it was on media and politics,” student Stefan Valjanoski said.

Ms Mirabella returned shortly after and continued with her planned lecture.

Read Adele Brookes’ news piece on Sophie Mirabella’s appointment here.

Farrago writer Kate Lawrence was also in the lecture theatre when the incident happened. Here’s how she documented the occassion via Twitter and Youtube.