One week ago, Howard-era former Minister, Amanda Vanstone, wrote an article for the Sydney Morning Herald detailing her opinion of the anti-Budget student protests happening around the nation at the moment. Vanstone got a lot of things wrong, and these mistakes are being made by not just her, but as a resounding point of view from conservative politicians. This is a direct response to her article, so I recommend giving her critique a read for ‘educational’ purposes – read it here.
In short, this piece is going to call out the mass of dangerous generalizations that are being made about the protesters, the reason for protesting, and Generation Y, or as she negatively refers to us as the ‘me-me-me’ generation, on a larger scale. Let’s first acknowledge that these protests are not about the existence of university fees. Of course, many people in the crowds will advocate a no-fee structure, but many people who are voicing protests do believe that the HECS system is workable.
My personal view, seeing as university is very expensive, is that the debt is most justly and efficiently paid off when there is a combination of a graduate paying what they are capable of paying, and a government taking an active investment in having a well-educated population with equal opportunity. The latter should be strong enough that no Australian is for one minute deterred from furthering their education for reasons of economic standing.
Let me stress again, this is not the only view to have, and that is the point I am arguing. Students aren’t all protesting because they believe in the same higher education model. They are protesting against the Budget, and in extension, the attitudes taken by the Government.
The reason people are coming together with this much passion and so earnestly is because they feel the level of deregulation, increase of fees and general lack of concern for young people getting an education shown by the Government with the release of the Budget is dangerous and unjust. So let’s not attempt to dismiss these protesters by pretending they’re one single entity (which would be a lot easier to argue with). Even Vanstone, in her article, acknowledged the importance of protest. Yet all that she could say about the protesters themselves is that they were ‘bullies’ and ‘thugs’. Now, that’s just lazy.
We’ve seen an array of protests over the past few weeks, and yes, some were more fervent than others. Let’s look at the rally organized last Wednesday by the National Union of Students. This was one of the largest of its kind, had representation from so many different groups of students, and was a great success. Why was it a success? Because over a thousand people were able to march through the city to make their cause known, and nobody got hurt.
Most protesters have a good relationship with the police. The ‘thugs’ that Vanstone is harking on about are only a fraction of the people protesting. Who are the rest? Student representatives. People worried about how they, their family and friends’ opportunities will be threatened by this extreme budget. By criticizing all of these protesters for the ‘thuggish’ actions of a few, Vanstone and those who agree with her are blocking their ears and singing loudly in the face of widespread, legitimate concerns held by a whole lot of people who may not have that much else in common.
This, right now, is the face of Generation Y. Wherever we may lie on the political scale, we have the networks and media available and the skills honed to effectively communicate messages that need to be heard. Youth have always had a particular knack for sticking to their ideals strongly and with unmatched conviction. And so, when people label the force of youth in motion as merely ‘selfish’, they aren’t just attacking the people rallying against the Budget.
They are refusing to engage with a generation, and are missing a gigantic part of the changing political discourse. This will ultimately be to their own loss.