(Eng) Australian student activists charged

Steve Wright (sjwright@vaxc.cc.monash.edu.au)
Sun, 24 Mar 1996 08:21:48 +1000

Here is a piece from the latest issue of _Rebel Worker_, an
anarcho-syndicalist publication which comes out of Sydney. It deals with
recent events in the student sector here in Melbourne. Since a number of
people on the aut-op-sy list are involved in the campaign to defend the
Rabelais editors (whose court case beings tomorrow), I expect that more
information will follow shortly.

I should add that a comrade from the local anarchist bookshop Bariicade
Infoshop is facing prosecution for the display of 'objectionable' material
under the same law that is being used against the Rabelais editors.

Rabelais Prosecution (article on shoplifting)

On February 26 three former editors of the La Trobe University, Melbourne
student newspaper Rabelais went to court over the publication last year of
an article detailing methods of shoplifting, after being charged at the
start of the year with publishing an 'objectionable' publication under the
Classification Film and Publications Act (1990), for which they face a total
of $72,000 in fines and/or six years in gaol.

During the short hearing a rally was held outside to protest the actions of
the police action, initiated by none other than the former (hooray!) Federal
Minister for Employment, Education and Training, Simon Crean (who was in
contact with the Victorian Attorney-General, Jan Wade, shortly after the
publication of the article, requesting that the editors be dealt with), a
student was arrested and questioned in relation to an entirely unconnected
event at La Trobe last year.

In 1994 the Kennett government passed a piece of student unionbusting
legislation in state parliament, the so-called Voluntary Student Unionism
laws. Under the legislation, university administrations were required to
police the ways in which student unions spent student money generated from a
compulsory fee levied at enrolment, and it set up guidelines for them to
follow which effectively banned any type of political activity, including
those that might pose a threat to the actions of the state government.
To implement the legislation at La Trobe in 1995, the university
administration handed the Student's Representative Council a funding
contract requiring the SRC to abide by the guidelines set down by the VSU
legislation; in effect, requiring them to commit political suicide. A
general student meeting was called in response to the funding contract,
which was attended by more than three hundred students, who decided at the
meeting to march on the administration building and demand their money, 'no
strings attached.'

When the group reached the building, it was discovered that the doors to the
building had been locked to prevent the students from meeting with the Vice-
Chancellor to discuss the issue. The individuals at the head of the
procession began beating and kicking the doors, which after a considerable
thrashing broke down in a way that is still unexplained. The group of
students marched into and occupied the building, prompting the university
secretary to cave in and promise the money-half a million dollars-an hour
later, which was received the next week.

During the episode television news teams and newspaper photo journalists
captured the event. The video tape made of the events, of which the Vice-
Chancellor was the only recipient, somehow found its way into the hands of
the police, although the administration made a specific promise at the time
not to press charges in relation to the occupation.

The arrest of the student, Daniel Sammut, at the February 26 rally was
preceded by the arrest of another La Trobe student, Nigel Peacock, several
weeks earlier by local police in the small coastal town of Inverloch, over a
hundred km=EDs away, in relation to the same incident. Both were charged wit=
criminal damage.

The arrest of Nigel Peacock and Daniel Sammut and the persecution of the
former Rabelais editors over the publication of The Art of Shoplifting
(which would have been inconceivable a few years ago) represents a marked
attempt by the state Liberal government to intimidate campus activists as
they continue their efforts to shift educational costs onto students, in the
long run providing big business with cheap (and docile) wage slaves. The
election of a federal Liberal government, which has been waiting in the
wings with the same union-busting policies for the last fourteen years,
marks the beginning of a do-or-die phase for student unionism on a national
level and with the prospect of funding contracts of the type that inspired
the occupation at La trobe appearing nationwide, the prospects for student
unionism are dim at best.

Ben Debney