Published on February 14th, 2015 | by Georgia Holloway1
Students pepper sprayed while protesting in Sydney
On Friday morning Christopher Pyne spoke at the inaugural Hedley Beare Memorial Lecture, hosted by education peak body ACEL Australia, at the Sydney Masonic Centre in the CBD. A group of approximately 40 students, from various groups and backgrounds, opposed to university fee deregulation were there to meet Pyne. As the group tried to enter the building they were blocked by police and were told to ‘move on’ before being maced with pepper spray.
The Tertangala has spoken to Declan Maher, a University of Sydney student and protester. He says the group had been ‘converging for an hour or so’ before the incident. He says police presence had been ‘hostile but not really aggressive’ before the students attempted to enter the Sydney Masonic Centre. On the Sydney Masonic Centre’s website, it indicates that the buildings foyers are public spaces.
“You could say they weren’t happy about it from the start.”
Initially the protesters thought they would block the a driveway where some speeches and chants were heard. Whilst on the driveway Declan was shoved by police. He says the protesters remained peaceful the whole time, and that police turned aggressive when the group tried to enter the Sydney Masonic Centre.
“We had tried to enter into a public building, to peacefully protest Christopher Pyne’s higher education reforms, and within seconds they used pepper spray.”
“Everyone sort of recoiled at which point the cops pushed everyone out of the building.”
“I was behind the crowd and got out of the way so everyone could get out… no one fought back.”
The use of pepper spray appeared to be random, except for the instance involving Ridah Hassan, who Declan saw being held in place by police whilst being maced.
“We were pushed by police and I was pepper-sprayed right in the face, my face is on fire,” Ms Hassan said.
Students trying to enter the Sydney Masonic centre where Christopher Pyne is speaking say they were pepper sprayed pic.twitter.com/Me0ey0C6cc
— Rebecca Barrett (@becjbarr) February 13, 2015
Anna Amelia, a legally blind woman, was another student maced by police. “I didn’t know what was going on until I was sprayed,” she said.
“I sort of fell on the pavement and people tried to get the spray off me but I ended up being treated by a paramedic.
“I’m not sure why I got sprayed.”
— ABC News Sydney (@abcnewsSydney) February 13, 2015
On Friday evening the NSW police issued a media release. It stated that the students were maced for their own protection. The release alleged ‘the protestors blocked the driveway to the building’s underground car park, along with the entrance on Castlereagh Street’.
“Police further allege a number of the protestors entered the building at that location. They attempted to push through a single door, posing a safety risk to both police and the protestors.”
“The protestors allegedly failed to comply with police instructions to move back.
As further protestors were forcing their way into the foyer area, police – concerned a crowd-crush situation was imminent – deployed OC spray.”
The statement also confirmed no arrests were made.
NSW Police have launched an investigation into the use of pepper-spray.
Declan believes the police reaction demonstrates that the Liberal party ‘are more and more on the back foot with these policies’.
“The police response today was brutal and gratuitous. The cops would rather use pepper spray against peacefully protesting students, than have them heckle the speech of a man who is deepening the class divide in tertiary education”.
Students will march again on March 25th.
UPDATE 15/02/15: The Tertangala’s claim that the Sydney Masonic Centre is a public building has been retracted. It is indicated by the Sydney Masonic Centre’s website that the buildings foyers are public spaces. While the student interviewed believes that the building is a public building the Tertangala’s fact checking has been unable to substantiate this claim. The Tertangala’s fact checking has also been unable to find a source which states the building is privately owned.
UPDATE 15/02/15: A source provided to The Tertangala indicates Sydney Masonic Centre is privately owned. Cordell Construction Project’s website lists the building as privately owned. The source provider has also indicated that the use of the word ‘public’ on the Sydney Masonic Centre’s website may be in relation to non-member attendees.
If any of our readers are able to provide a more reliable source which states the building is privately owned please comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org and this story will be updated accordingly.