Why I Protested On Q And A


It’s no easy feat to smuggle a banner into a television studio, keeping it hidden through security checks and from prying eyes. I was nervous about it all day — there was a lot that could go wrong. I don’t often attend the Q&A audience, but I have a few times, so I knew the routine.

Despite the nerves, fear and fumbles, I was able to fling the banner out from the mezzanine, hoping that the cameras would at least get a brief glimpse of its words: “More brains, not warplanes. Fund Education.”

It wasn’t particularly pleasant being a big ball of sweat and fear as I waited in the lobby for staff and security to start shuffling us inside. But it was worth the effort because right now media outlets nationwide are talking about the action and the education cuts that loom over the country in the lead up to the May budget.

The Kemp-Norton review and the Commission of Audit have essentially recommended that poor students shouldn’t bother with university at all. The idea to scrap low-SES quotas for university enrolments and expand deregulation would facilitate a shift toward a two-tier, US style system of education.

I’m the first in my family to attend university, and it hasn’t been easy. Watching my mum struggle in her minimum wage job, just to get me through high school, was tough. If it weren’t for the low-SES quota at UTS, I wouldn’t have received three extra UAI points to get into my first degree. I now study a Master of Primary Education at Sydney University, and I receive no financial support from my parents, so rely on work and Youth Allowance to complete my studies.

I’m the exact type of student who will be pushed out of tertiary education if the Abbott Government has its way. Not only will it be made harder for people like me to attend university, students who do will see their fees increase dramatically. For example, my partner is currently paying $35,000 for his law degree. If the Commission of Audit’s proposed increase (from 41 per cent to 55 per cent) to student contributions goes ahead, the cost will jump up to $47,000. That’s $12,000 more, for the same degree.

I find it perplexing that some critics of the action have described our protest as “inappropriate” or “unnecessary”. Non-violent direct actions, like ours on Q&A, are what we’re now forced to do: nothing else was working. Students have been speaking out but nobody is listening because we are young and we don’t have money, political connections or seats in parliament.

The idea that a couple of questions on an ABC talk show could cut through the immense media presence and power of the Coalition Government and conservative think-tanks like the IPA and the CIS is simply naive. In spite of the constant cuts to tertiary education and increases to student debt we’re expected to sit quietly and engage in a vacuous debate on their terms? We’ve been playing that game for years but it is rigged against us.

We could have just asked a question and sat there listening to Christopher Pyne evade, deflect and spin, with a smarmy grin stuck to his face. We could have walked out of the studio and gone home and said “well we tried”. We could have been ignored, again.

But this time, we were actually heard. For this, I and the other members of the Education Action Network are proud of what we achieved, and we will continue to fight against the neoliberalisation and deregulation of universities in any way we can, including non-violent direct actions.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting a message out and success in doing so depends on your context and the resources available to you. In this context, we thought a two-minute disruption of a national television broadcast would get the education crisis back in the spotlight.

The Education Action Network’s next event will be a rally on 21 May at 2:30pm outside the UTS tower building.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.