Image source: Flickr

May 16, 2017

Student protesters interrupted ABC TV political affairs program Q&A last night, questioning aspects of the Federal Budget which was released last week.

Written by Lily Greer

Produced for online by Molly Houseman

Q&A’s first post-budget episode went to air with student protesters gathering outside the Gold Coast studio.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham was prepared for backlash over the funding cuts to universities and changes to the HECS payback scheme, which were announced in last week’s Federal Budget.

During the program he was often interrupted by protesters who were in the audience.

Media academic Belinda Eslick says if Q&A’s going to live up to its ‘Democracy in Action’ catchphrase, protests will certainly be a part of the format.

“I think the fact that the producers and the media commentators find the fact that protests happening on Q&A seems so out of place, says a lot about the democratic value of Q&A,” she says.

Ms Eslick, who has published research on the value of Q&A’s format, says the program should have included a student representative on the panel if they were planning to discuss the university funding cuts.

“If your aim is to create a democratic platform, or a platform where citizens can engage in a meaningful way in politics, then you need to make sure that you have a reasonable representation of voices,” she says.

UQ Vice President of Student Rights Domenico Sottileat says backlash from these students is warranted.

“It’s really important that students just show, in anyway possible, even if they might be destructive and not very polite, it’s important for students to show that we exist and we matter…” he says.

University of Queensland student Molly James asked the question which started it all.

“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?” she says.

Ms James says she is not affiliated with any student activism groups and understands Mr Birmingham is speaking for his party.

“I do have in the back of my mind that he might not actually really like these changes, but as a party member you have to support where your party goes,” she says.

“I feel for him but at the end of the day this is his job and be held accountable for anything that is going on in his area of government.”

Ms James says the most effective way to promote students rights on the Q&A stage is to have a simple conversation.

“I just think that that is a place for calm discussion between me and the politicians and I think that is the most effective way for me to get my point across,” she says.

Senator Birmingham says the changes for young people are to guarantee university students are never forced to pay upfront.

“In Australia, we have many opportunities and the opportunity for people to go to university without paying a dollar upfront, to pursue their dreams is something that’s not afforded to many people around the world,” he says.

“It’s something that our policies in this budget will look to guarantee for the future.”

The panel also featured Greens MP Larissa Waters and Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen.

Students from around Brisbane are planning to protest against the cuts outside the Convention Centre tomorrow, where the Prime Minister will be having lunch.