A protest in Sydney against the Australian government’s education reforms turned violent, as security police pepper-sprayed dozens of students protesting against soaring education fees, and cuts to the education system in the country.
Students attempting to enter a lecture by Education Minister Christopher Pyne were dispersed by police.
The Daily Telegraph reports: Police pepper-sprayed a blind university student who was part of a group protesting education minister Christopher Pyne’s higher education reforms in the city this morning.
A group of about 60 students gathered on the footpath outside the Masonic Centre on Goulburn St where Pyne was giving a speech about 11am.
Students chanted “no cuts, no fees, no corporate universities” before police sprang into action them as they entered the foyer.
They accused the police of intimidation and heavy-handedness as they tried to deliver their message to Pyne.
Legally-blind University of New South Wales student Anna Amelia, 23, said ‘It felt like there was an actual fire in my lungs,” Ms Amelia said.
“I saw the orange spray which means it was close because on a good day I can only see two metres. Next thing everything was on fire and I couldn’t breathe.”
Another spray victim, University of Sydney student Brigitte Garozzo, said she was just holding a sign and was avoiding confrontation.
“We were chanting and I was holding a sign and I’ve been to protests where police are rough before so I deliberately didn’t yell because I didn’t want to get involved and it still happened,” Ms Garozzo said. “I was pepper sprayed for holding a sign.”
The ‘Protest against Pyne’ leaflet claims “deregulation will destroy higher education through the creation of a two-tiered US style system.
It was organised by the National Union of Students NSW Branch.
NSW Education Action Network convenor Mia Sanders, wearing a ‘staff cuts hurt students’ badge, said they wanted to march into the building to deliver their message to Pyne.
“But they decided that wasn’t going to happen and a line of police including riot police pushed students to the ground and maced them,” Ms Sanders said.
The students were in agony and were immediately on the ground crying. We got water and used our own banners to wipe their faces.”
None of the students managed to get their message to Pyne.