Christopher Pyne becomes the next politician to be mobbed by students

May 23, 2014
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It started with an elusive Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the University of Sydney, though it was Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop that ended up getting up close and personal with students. Then it was former MP Sophie Mirabella’s turn be confronted, this time at the University of Melbourne. Now it’s Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s moment in the sun!

Last night, Pyne became the latest in a string of Liberal politicians to experience the ire of student protesters while visiting university campuses. The politician was at the University of Sydney to adjudicate a debating competition – ironically dubbed the John Howard Debating Cup – at St John’s College.

Between 30 and 50 protesters gathered to voice their discontentment with the Australian government. According to the ABC, about 50 police were present at the College. Protesters attempted to gain entry the building, but were unsuccessful in their efforts. Protest participants have claimed that the police were unnecessarily violent.

The incident – dubbed #pyneatusyd across Twitter – is the latest in a series of similar incidents: #abbottatusyd, #julieatusyd, and, of course, members of the Sydney wing of Socialist Alternative making a memorable and dramatic appearance on #qanda.

The ongoing protests have drawn mixed reactions in the press. For instance, conservative commentator Miranda Devine claimed demonstrations at the University of Sydney last week were due to “mature age students [having] too much time on their hands”. She also labelled allegations of police brutality at St John’s College last night “total BS”.

Reputed violence – propagated by police, campus security and students – has been a controversial aspect of the protests. For example, Bishop’s appearance at the University of Sydney last Friday prompted a blog from the University of Sydney Union criticising the “brutal examples of violence” shown in video content recorded during the protest.

As well as actions targeting specific politicians, student activists have also been collaborating on the streets to voice their protest against the Liberal government more broadly, with the main target its recently revealed plans to alter the funding system of the university sector.

On Wednesday, the NUS held a number of rallies across the country. These events directly followed last Sunday’s March in May, in which many students also took part. The run of incidents also prompted Abbott and Pyne to redact plans to visit Deakin University on the same day, apparently upon security advice from the Australian Federal Police.

Whether this run of activist protests will continue remains to be seen, but regardless, Bronwyn Bishop should probably hold onto her up-do. 

John Rowley

Image: Christopher Pyne from WikiMedia Commons