May 9, 2014

Sammi Taylor

What is lazy, largely unemployed, unmotivated, social media addicted, devoid of communication skills, deeply disinterested in politics and ungrateful for their educational opportunities?

Gen Y, of course!

And who was it that we saw exhibiting motivation, ambition, fear for the limits of their career opportunities, outstanding communication skills, a burning passion for politics and a deep concern for the future of their education system on QandA last Monday?

That’d be Gen Y.

Like the student protesters on last week’s episode, I’d sure love to have my questions answered about the future of tertiary education. I’d love to not have my opinions suffocated by conservative 40-somethings, anonymous opinionated twitter accounts (run by conservative 40-somethings) or anyone who has the nerve to tell me that I take my education for granted.

Because my education is important to me. And I am angry.

I’m not simply angry because the Commission of Audit recommended a rise in university fees, which will potentially (and probably) make its way into next week’s Federal Budget. I’m not even angry that I’ll have to pay up to 55% more for my university degree (limiting the variation of people from different socio-economic levels that can afford to further their education) while our beloved Government spends a fair bit of money on some “war-planes” instead.

No, I’m angry because once again youth were belittled for their opinions, shamed for their conduct and told to sit down and shut up. Granted, they were yelling pretty loudly—but when we’ve been silenced over and over, how else are we meant to be heard?

After Education Minister Christopher Pyne manoeuvred his way around the uni student’s questions regarding the deregulation of tertiary education, they begun chanting “No cuts, no fees, no corporate universities” very, very loudly. They managed to take control of the ABC program for a solid ninety seconds before being escorted out of the premises by security. They were met with a dismissive laugh from Chris Pyne himself, a shake of the head from Tony Jones and the label of ‘rioters’ from one at-home viewer on twitter.

“That is not what we want to happen on this program. That is not what democracy is all about. And those students should understand that” Jones said after the studio returned to its normal, quiet state.

Mr. Jones and I clearly have a very different idea of democracy. Because that is exactly what it’s all about when you’re an ambitious young adult with a passion for what you believe in. Democracy is having a voice and having your voice heard, especially when others don’t want to hear it. These students were sick of feeling oppressed by a Government that clearly doesn’t care about them or their futures. Who can blame them for speaking up?

Since Monday, I’ve seen the incident labelled as “disgraceful”, a “riot” and “a pack of entitled bullies”. Commenters have called the students in question “totalitarianists”, “insolent” and “simple-minded undergraduates”, with one sole conspiracy theorist stating that Tony Jones himself clearly orchestrated the whole affair. I’ve listed some of my personal favourites below, and why they’re simply overreactions (and wrong):

  1. The act itself was despicable: Oh c’mon. No one was hurt and no one had a shoe thrown at them a-là-John-Howard.


  1. They interrupted rudely and disrupted the discussion: Sure they interrupted, but no one seemed to mind when MP Kate Ellis was continuously interrupted by Pyne himself on an episode of QandA back in 2012. It seems we’re quick to reprimand some opinionated students, while ignoring the sexist behaviour Pyne has repeatedly displayed in the past.


  1. How does that help them get their point across? If Monday night’s episode didn’t prove that being loud produces results, then I’m not sure what will. By Tuesday morning, the event had made appearances on both Channel Nine and Channel Seven’s breakfast shows, with the clip of the student’s chanting reaching a viral audience online over night. If you weren’t aware of the potential increases to uni fees already, you certainly are now.


  1. They’re just uninformed kids, anyway: See, this is the one that gets me. Youth are constantly stereotyped as the epitome of entitled, lazy and disinterested. And suddenly when we break away from that generalisation and aim to prove it wrong—we’re told to pipe down. Told that nobody wants our opinions here. That’s not democracy, remember?

It sure is democracy. Youth will continue to engage in democracy—to distance themselves from the stereotypes placed upon them, immerse themselves in political discussions (whether it concerns them directly or not) and be uber passionate about the issues they fervently and whole-heartedly support. And if they plan to do this through some protests and slightly-out-of-synchronisation chanting exercises, then I encourage that. Nothing achieves results better than a little bit of healthy anger—and I sincerely hope that Christopher Pyne is listening. Because my education is important to me. After all, Gen Y are voting in the next election. And if the deregulation of tertiary education finds its way into next week’s budget, they certainly won’t earn my vote.

You can check out the student’s response to the controversy here

– Sammi Taylor

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