UON students protest education cuts

In the wake of the 2017 Federal Budget, NUSA and UON students protest proposed cuts to education. Jack Moran reports.

UON students, led by the Newcastle Universtiy Students Association (NUSA), gathered outside the Auchmuty courtyard today to protest recent changes to tertiary education costs laid out in the 2017 Federal Budget.

The Facebook event made for the protest indicated that 142 people were planning on going and 471 people were interested. While the turnout may not have been the full 142, there was certainly a large and engaged crowd gathered by the time the speeches began.

In a speech, NUSA President Michael Labone said that the budgets cuts were “frankly disgraceful” and criticised the University’s lack of information on bus schedule and class schedules in preparation for the opening of NewSpace.

A major theme in the speeches was that NUSA ultimately wants a return to free education and urges students to fight for that.

NUSA Welfare Officer Aesha Awan gave an impassioned speech stating that Australia had and kept free tertiary education during the 1970s because “students stood up and they fought back.” Awan then opened microphone for staff members to speak to the crowd, claiming that the “University has a regime where they are trying to silence staff”.

Her invitation to speak was taken up by Roger Markwick, the Vice-President of National Tertiary Education Union’s Newcastle branch. Marwick said that it is an “absolute disgrace that students are expected to pay more” for an education system that will, in his words, ultimately give them less. He also noted that the casualisation of the education sector’s workforce “undermines” the quality of education for students.

After the speeches were over there was a heated argument between NUSA members and students that onlookers indicated were part of UON’s Socialist community. The argument seemed to stem from those students dissatisfaction with other students being able to speak aside from NUSA officers. The argument did seem to disperse fairly quickly.

Speaking to NUSA Representative for the Faculty of Education and Arts Luci Regan, they said that it was important the event was not party-affiliated and wouldn’t be dominated by rhetoric from any party.

 “This event is autonomous in that we as NUSA advocate for students,” they said. “We organised this event to be autonomous and apolitical.”

Despite NUSA’s attempts for the event to not be aligned with a party, Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon was in attendance. Although she did not speak to crowds during the protest, a contingent of students present did don red Sharon Claydon shirts.

Speaking to Yak, Ms Claydon said that it was important for elected representatives as such as herself to witness firsthand the impacts that the cuts would have on students.

“I’ve been very moved by people coming up to me afterwards and talking about what it means for everyday living,” she said. She also noted that there were some concerns brought up by students that had not yet been considered.

“The issue around impacts on the enabling programs, for example, was raised with me today,” she said. “I just think that’s an area we haven’t really unpacked and looked at the implactions.”

During the protest, NUSA were encouraging students to sign the National Union of Students petition to “stop the war on students”.

Want more information on how the budget will affect students? Check out our article looking at what the budget might mean to you. NUSA will also be holding a forum in the coming weeks looking at the budget. Keep your eyes peeled on the NUSA Facebook for more information.