Topic: independent media
At 11 am May 2nd 2007 we heard on local ABC radio there was a student rally at Sydney University which might disrupt traffic. Being a strong supporter of public education and beneficiary of Whitlam’s free education policy with 2 university degrees from ANU in Canberra, I thought maybe I should repay the moral debt owed and do a decent report for these idealistic young adults..
On previous occasions I had noticed weak reportage of similar events such as one with thousands marching through Railway Square into the CBD virtually ignored by Big Media. That's not right I thought at the time.
Picture: Happy rally marshalls relaxing at the Front Lawn Sydney Uni before the march into the CBD.
So having banked my pay cheque, paid my rent, I cycled down to the campus. There was a poster on City Road bus stop inviting me to the National Day of Action, at least I read it that way.
Similarly posters advertising the rally were at the front counter of the Student Representative Council SRC. No where did it say “students only”, and anyway I’ve been doing community media reportage for 10 years now.
But not only that. This writer has done street press delivery at the campus (at three locations) every month for the last 5 years. Information stalls at the Manning Building. Use of the climbing wall at the sports complex. And probably a host of other interactions with Sydney University life.
There is also an open invitation to the public to access the campus to view this current exhibition.
Up until today I thought Sydney University was a place that fostered a culture of open and free discussion and debate and welcomed the public onto its grounds within reason.
Picture: Corinne Grant formerly of the Glasshouse on ABC TV and well known supporter of the Your Rights at Work campaign.
As I cycled along past the roadworks I saw chalked messages on the campus footpath to attend the rally at the front lawns at 12. Sure enough people were gathering. Then I noticed what looked like 2 NSW cycle police arriving, as pictured here:
One got their note book out and started instructing a lefty student to take down a poster they were putting on pole. I took a picture of this enforcement but he got the note book out of sight before I could click.
As I wandered around taking pictures I got to talking with some local media students who then asked me for an interview about the value and purpose of such rallies. I said "it's crucial to keep the spark of democracy alive", and "a pity education is not as available as when I went through in the 1980ies. Even under Hawke they were unravelling the policies of Gough Whitlam".
Then while I was watching I noticed one of these goons (advisedly) grinning and taking pictures of me, as I covered the rally. It was the tall guy previously on the bicycle pictured above without a helmet at right, I now know as 23 year old Peter Davis. Several times he seemed to focus on me. Not pointing at the rally itself but at me specifically.
Picture: stalked by a goon #1: Davis stalks me with camera. This was his second try, seeming to have trouble with the camera and showing it to a colleague.
Picture, stalked by a goon #2: Davis stalks me with camera again. Notice all the eyes are looking at the rally to the far left off screen, his camera is at me specifically.
As the crowd moved off I walked 50 metres to get my bike and join the march. The same goon who I now know as the officious 23 year old Peter Davis in a Sydney University security uniform quite similar to a NSW Police Uniform had followed me a good hundred metres and started leaning over me. “What’s your name? …Do you have any reason to he here on the campus? ….Show me your identification? ….You can show me or I can arrest you right now.” By this time he had 3 or 4 older guys in uniform standing behind him including an older security goon by the name of “Colin Bowman”.
I made it very clear I was reporting the student rally for a community news blog, that I was a solicitor and I didn’t appreciate harassment and intimidation on a Sydney University campus.
These guys couldn’t have cared less. Security goon Peter Davis in particular gave every impression of being an officious egotist repeatedly stating the campus is “private land”. So there you have it. Democracy just died on Sydney University campus courtesy of a 23 year old wannabe policeman giving a good impression of an SS officer.
Later on the march, and rally at the park near Central, I had a brief interview with the President of the SRC, the youthful Angus McFarland and we arranged to talk by phone after the rally.
I also attended the SRC office and was told by the staff member there may actually be a tendering battle going on at Sydney University for the on campus security work. There was an unconfirmed suggestion in what she said about new security staff hassling visitors to create an impression of greater efficiency. Or from what I saw officious menacing oppression of democratic process in a sensitive election year on an open university campus.
Certainly the real police and their convoy of vehicles following the students was huge. Much longer than the 300 or so students from Sydney Uni. There were big white vans, police on horseback, and tactical response in blue overalls.
It was a totally peaceful rally, then march with MC at the Sydney Uni end being Corinne Grant formerly of the Glasshouse ABC tv show: “Democracy is a beautiful thing” she had said encouraging students to enrol to vote. In fact as these pseudo fascists on the security staff at the campus issued me with an “indefinite” termination of licence ban from attending the Sydney University campus ever again, for simply reporting the community news, she walked past taking in the whole scene. Students were aghast and amused as I told the security I would likely see pompous Mr Davis in court.
I asked Davis “Why did you take photographs of me? Why are you harassing me now?” He said “You insulted me”. This came across as an invented grievance. He'd crossed a huge lawn to stalk me before I could leave with the march. WTF? The guy was on an egotistical power trip. Maybe he moonlights as a bouncer? Maybe he's been told to case me? There simply was no insult just democracy unfolding and he didn't seem to like it. Pathetic. It was a totally unsuitable attitude for a university campus in this writer's opinion.
Picture: Materials given to this SAM reporter at Sydney Uni campus.
There was no insult until that point but I did call him a fascist and I mean it for writing me a “termination of licence” notice. I simply refuse to pander to such bullying. Seems self respect and doing community media is now deemed “insulting”. Who knows what perjury this Peter Davis and his mates will cook up? They got nervous when I started calling out 'stop harrassing me' and 'don't try and bully a solicitor in NSW for reporting a public rally'.
Picture: UTS student column joins the Sydney Uni column of marchers in Broadway, with solar powered music machine at bottom right.
As I returned from the rally I rang the Vice Chancellor’s office of Gavin Brown here and promised I would be submitting a written complaint, by email. And I will take it up with new Chancellor Marie Bashir when she takes on her job in June 2007. I rang the number for the General Manager of the University of Sydney Security Services by the name of Eric Wessels (!) but was told to put it in writing. You bet.
The whole episode was a disgrace to our democracy on the grounds of Sydney University and it just shows what an authoritarian oppressive culture we have in Howard’s Australia today. But the rally was great fun with a really good energy:
Green MP Senator Kerry Nettle has issued this press release on the National Union of Students day of protest:
Government's contempt for students threatens Australia's future
Greens Senator Kerry Nettle today urged the Treasurer not to continue
the government's contempt for university students and instead ensure
that the budget next week delivers key funding for student financial
support, funding to reduce class sizes and retain a broad range of
"Today the National Union of Students are protesting for better quality
and more accessible higher education. The Greens echo this call and urge
Peter Costello to loosen the purse strings to help our struggling
"The contempt that the Howard government has shown to students over the
past 11 years has strangled educational productivity.
"The Greens call on Peter Costello to use his last budget to deliver the
money needed to reduce class sizes and end fees, an adequate living
allowance to support students' when they are studying and real
indexation of government funding of universities.
"University life is changing for the worse in Australia with students
struggling with work pressure, crowded lectures and high fees. The
Australian community and economy is the loser.
"The Treasurer needs to end his addiction to false economies in
education funding and recognise as the business community has that every
dollar spent on improving our universities brings two more back into the
Contact - Jon Edwards 0428 213 146
Postscript #1 3rd May 2007: It seems the tone of legally enforced secrecy starts at the top at Sydney University starting with the "basic test of openness" when the Sydney Morning Herald asked Sydney University amongst other universities the salary package of their Vice Chancellors, reported today by Matthew Moore their FoI editor:
Academe rewards kept mum May 3rd 2007 p20, How much does a vice-chancellor earn? In the case of some universities we may never know, writes Matthew Moore.
To quote: "compared with Sydney University, Wollongong is a fresh breath of openness and transparency. At Sydney, the decision refusing access to everything, made by the registrar, William Adams (who certainly put his legal qualifications to use), is a detailed determination drawing heavily on the Fomiatti decision.
The contract appointing Gavin Brown as vice-chancellor in 1996 did not have a confidentiality clause, but Dr Adams says a letter from the then chancellor, Dame Leonie Kramer, was marked "personal and in confidence". This was as good as a confidentiality clause for the purposes of denying access.
After all, Dr Adams said, the information in the contract "has the necessary quality of confidence" and was "imparted in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence". Got that?
What he doesn't say, of course, is why Brown's deal needs to be kept secret when everyone is allowed to know that Macquarie's Steven Schwartz is paid $600,000 with an annual bonus of $100,000 paid if performance indicators (public) are met. All the details are there - Schwartz's relocation costs ($25,000), shipping costs ($25,000), temporary accommodation costs ($15,000) and legal costs ($10,000)."
Postscript #2 : Another echo of the youthful demonstrators led by the NUS was this story via the ALP's Tanya Plibersek here 3rd May Opposition wants 'independent' youth body. 03/05/2007. ABC News Online
Postscript #3: A kindly, very respected, very senior journalist that should remain nameless writes:
Dear Tom, Have you taken this up with the MEAA [Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance]? You should. I reckon they ought to take an interest -- whether or not you're a member -- because this is essentially a freedom-of-the-press issue. Best wishes,
We agree with this common sense suggestion.