Australian/ 16 may 2017/By: Georgina Mitchell/Source: http://www.theage.com.au
Education minister Simon Birmingham has been confronted by student protesters on live television, after the government controversially proposed in the federal budget to cut funding to universities while raising student fees.
Mr Birmingham appeared alongside Greens senator Larissa Waters, shadow treasurer Chris Bowen and representatives from the university and business world in a special episode of the ABC’s Q&A on Monday night.
The panel planned to dissect the budget and what it had to offer for all sectors of society.
However, in the hours before the program aired, Q&A producers drew the ire of students for refusing to include a young person on the panel.
A handful of students waved signs and banners outside the Arts Centre Gold Coast under the watchful eye of police, with slogans including “Game of Loans” and “education for all, not just the rich”.
In the studio, the situation heated up after a questioner pointed out Mr Birmingham had been an active student politician who opposed increases to fees.
“So why is it now, 20 years on, that your view has complete changed?” the questioner asked, to applause. “Can you please justify to me why you think that the proposed changes to increase fees and lower the HECS repayment threshold is fair for university students across this country?”
Mr Birmingham said a lot has changed over the last 20 to 30 years, and began to say there had been enormous growth in the number of students going to university when a woman began shouting from the crowd.
“You’re making students pay,” the woman said, as Ms Waters nodded in agreement. The program did not show the protester in the audience but her shouting was audible.
The woman continued shouting until she was grabbed by security guards and removed from the audience.
Another audience member then began to shout: “How can you justify the cuts to the tax repayment thresholds?” before he too was removed.
Host Tony Jones tried in vain to bring order as the audience applauded the interjections.
“I think you can see it’s a university town, there’s a good deal of passion here in the audience,” Jones said.
Mr Birmingham, who had agreed to answer the first woman’s interjection, said students have been protesting for generations.
Ms Waters quipped: “It’s a shame they’re not being listened to.”
Labor says it will oppose the government’s proposed changes to higher education, which include a 7.5 per cent increase in fees, reducing the HECS loan repayment threshold to an annual salary of $42,000, and applying an efficiency dividend to universities.
The Greens have also opposed the controversial changes, meaning the government will need to negotiate with the Senate cross-bench if they want to pass the $2.8 billion in savings.
It is the second time protesters have drowned out an education minister on Q&A, after a group of students in Sydney unfurled a banner and began chanting at Christopher Pyne in 2014.
Those students – also protesting cuts to higher education – forced the program to cut to file footage of a musical performance while they were removed by security.
In response, the program launched a review of its security policies and apologised to Mr Pyne, who is now the minister for defence industry.