Hundreds of students from the University of Melbourne surrounded the recently opened Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity on Friday 12 September to protest against Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Abbott was visiting the university to deliver a speech for the opening of the new medical research centre on campus.
Despite their efforts, no students spoke directly to Abbott, while only a dozen witnessed his vehicle entering and leaving the building. However, the group of students made their voices heard through loud chants outside the building.
The protestors initially sat in front of the building’s Elizabeth St entrance, preparing to block Abbott’s vehicle from entering the car park. But when Abbott’s vehicle arrived at roughly 10.30am, the majority of protestors had already moved to the east side of the building. A small number of people saw Abbott enter, but made little attempt to stop his car.
At roughly 11am, the crowd of protestors chased three cars out of the Elizabeth St exit, but Abbott was not inside any of them.
One man alleged to be injured when a man in plain clothes tackled him to the ground in front of one of the cars.
A dozen protestors waited behind to block the car park exit, but police dismantled the human chain at approximately 11.45am to let Abbott’s car drive off.
Students were protesting about a range of issues, including the federal budget’s higher education cuts, proposed fee deregulation, and Australia’s treatment of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru.
First year Arts student Vivien said she hoped the protests would make Abbott more aware of the public antagonism towards his policies.
“I’m just hoping he sees the solidarity against him. I’m not hoping for violence—I just want him to see that people are angry and people are willing to fight against him.”
“Everybody has the right to education,” she continued. “I don’t come from a privileged background and the fact that I can go to university is incredible and I want everybody to have that opportunity.”
Recent graduate Alana Lazdins has completed both an Arts degree and a Juris Doctor at the University of Melbourne.
“I’m really against the deregulation of student fees,” she told Farrago. “Looking at the way education has been treated by Australian governments, you see that gradually it’s become more and more expensive and more and more inaccessible with fewer places available for people from less privileged backgrounds.”
“The other thing I’m really against is the charging of the bond rate rather than the CPI rate for fee HELP and HECS debts. When I signed up for my Law degree, I was told I would be charged a set rate of interest which was quite low and I was happy with that. But the proposed changes say that rate could go up by a significant amount,” Lazdins said.
She said she hoped the protests would also raise awareness among students about the consequences of fee deregulation.
“I think a lot of students don’t know how it’s going to impact them or they don’t seem to think what it means for their children in the future.”
Socialist Alternative claimed to organise the event, but students from a number of political and independent groups on campus played an active role in the demonstration and displayed their banners.
Riff Raff Radical Marching Band invited students to bring instruments such as bagpipes and trumpets to create extra noise. The Campus Refugee Rights Club invited former asylum seeker Mohammad Ali Baqiri to speak to students at South Lawn before the protests began.
More than 50 police, including at least 10 on horse, blocked the building’s entrances to ensure students couldn’t get inside the building.
A scuffle between police and students ensued when a mass of protestors tried to enter through the northeast entrance of the building shortly after Abbott arrived.
Video footage shows police pushing and shoving students, however no students appear to have been injured in the clashes.
Video by Michelle See-Tho
Certain protestors accused the policemen of being brutal and not having a real job.
Another piece of footage shows a male protestor being tackled to the ground by a man he alleges was a policeman. The unnamed protestor was writing chalk on the road as three cars departed the building, before being pushed back-first into the ground. The man escaped any serious injuries, but was approximately 20 centimetres away from being hit by one of the incoming vehicles.
“I put my hand in front of one of the cars to say ‘Stop’ but it drove straight at me,” the man said. “I was just writing chalk on a road, protesting. I’ve got a right to do that,” he said, defending himself.
Socialist Alternative’s Robert Narai said he wanted students to create a precedent that Abbott and other Liberal politicians are not welcome wherever they go.
“Any time there’s a Liberal politician on campus, they’re going to be met by serious opposition from students. They shouldn’t be able to show their face in public with what they’re doing with the pub lic at the moment,” he said.
Narai said the Socialist Alternative found it difficult to organise the event because the event was not made public and the time kept changing.
“We were told by a staff member from the NTEU that he was going to be on campus,” Narai said.
“It was really hard to figure out when he was speaking or when he was coming because they were keeping it really secretive.”
Earlier in the day, the protestors met together at South Lawn to hear a number of speeches from students.