Anti-budget rally exposes rift in student politics at UOW

A rally held at the University of Wollongong to protest the Turnbull government’s plans to hike up student fees has exposed the rift in student politics on campus.

One on side were protesters and politicians from the Greens, Labor and socialists groups who joined together to decry the budget measures which would raise course fees and cut university funding.

One the other, hanging at the back of the crowd, were the leaders of UOW’s Young Liberal-controlled student union Wollongong University Student Association (WUSA).

Leaders from the Wollongong University Student Association, including presidents Jasper Brewer, heckled from the back of the protest. Picture: Georgia Matts.

Leaders from the Wollongong University Student Association, including presidents Jasper Brewer, heckled from the back of the protest. Picture: Georgia Matts.

“Vote Liberal,” WUSA president Jasper Brewer shouted, heckling speakers, to boos from the crowd.

Last week, Mr Brewer issued a media release about the Turnbull government’s budget measures, perhaps unsurprisingly saying his party’s plans were “exciting” and “equitable”.

This was in stark contrast to views expressed at the Tuesday afternoon rally, organised as part of a national campaign by the National Union of Students.

'No cuts, no fees': Labor MP Sharon Bird joins protester Chloe Rafferty at the University of Wollongong rally. Picture: Georgia Matts.

'No cuts, no fees': Labor MP Sharon Bird joins protester Chloe Rafferty at the University of Wollongong rally. Picture: Georgia Matts.

NUS NSW Education Vice President and UOW student Chloe Rafferty said Mr Brewer’s views had “nothing to do with what the majority of people at the university think”.

“The Young Liberals at Wollongong are just as out of touch with the Liberals in Turnbull’s government about the interests and opinions of students,” Ms Rafferty said.

“Most people are terrified of what the government is trying to do. I think this shows that Liberals should have nothing to do with student unionism, as they have no interest in student unionism.”

UOW students Kaia Cox and Cameron Johnston.

UOW students Kaia Cox and Cameron Johnston.

The rally was attended by the Illawarra’s federal Labor MPs, Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones, as well as state Greens politician Mehreen Faruqi.

Also on Tuesday, leaders from universities around the country met to consider the proposed changes to higher education, focusing on how the plans would affect students.

There was unanimous opposition to the proposals to cut university funding and lift student fees, Universities Australia said.

What the budget proposed for students:

  • Student fees would increase by 1.8 per cent in 2018, and would continue to rise – to a total of 7.5 per cent – by 2021.
  • From July 2018, students would have to start paying back their HELP loans when their income reaches $42,000, instead of the current $52,000.
  • The repayment rate would be on a sliding scale from one per cent to 10 per cent, depending on income.
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