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Senator Rhiannon stands in solidarity with budget eve student, staff protestors

Lee Rhiannon 12 May 2015

Statement to be read out on behalf of Senator Lee Rhiannon at the ‘Students Strike Back' Education Action Network rally:

Earlier this year, the Chilean Congress introduced free higher education at universities across the country. Chilean students celebrated the end to their battle with an inadequate, inequitable, market-based higher education system.

The education revolution in Chile was powered not by politicians in Congress, but by students in the streets.

In 2006, Chilean high school students took to the streets in their black and white uniforms, calling for free public education. These marches began the so called Penguin Revolution, which has since seen hundreds of thousands of high school and university students hold strikes, protests and occupations on campuses. They helped to energise the national debate around higher education, and to convert huge sections of the general public to the cause.

Chile is now set to phase in free higher education over three years, by increasing the corporate tax, tightening regulations on tax evasion and closing loopholes for the rich.

Meanwhile back in Australia, Treasurer Joe Hockey this evening will hand down the Coalition's second neoliberal budget.

The Coalition's first budget included a plan to overhaul the tertiary education sector, and transform it into an unfair, market-driven system.

Between now and then, Minister Pyne has taken the Senate and the Australian public through a series of bewildering, misguided plans for ‘education reform'.

He has ignored the demands of students, and ignored the concerns of staff unions. Pyne has cherry picked feedback on these reforms, listening only to big business stakeholders and his favourite Vice Chancellors, and turning his back on higher education practitioners and students - the two biggest stakeholders in this debate.

Students, parents, academics, researchers and university bodies have watched over the past year, as Minister Pyne made public education his political plaything, attacking it from every angle.

Minister Pyne has dressed the reforms up every which way, to try and hide the damage these changes would inflict.

He has pleaded with crossbenchers, scoffing at those who don't support his proposals. He has spent almost $15 million of taxpayer money on advertising for the campaign. He has played up the desires of the G08, and played down the needs of students, academics and other universities. He has used 1700 research jobs as bargaining chips, and he has tried to shepherd through deregulation by announcing a reduction in the funding cuts originally proposed.

Despite his belligerence, the Greens, Labor and crossbenchers have stood strong against the proposals.

The Greens today would like to see a restructuring of our university system funding model, but one that is the antithesis of Minister Pyne's.

We want to see fair, tuition-free education introduced in this country, in a way that does not foreclose on the job security of academic staff, or the quality of teaching. The Greens want to improve education opportunities for all, from kindergarten right through to tertiary level study, including postgraduate studies.

I stand proudly in solidarity with the students, staff and members of the public who have turned out today to protest Minister Pyne's neoliberal education agenda.

I want you all to know that I, alongside all other members of the Greens, will fight any further cuts to the sector that this newest budget may contain. The Greens will settle for nothing short of fair, accessible and tuition free university.




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