Deakin University tent city still standing after eviction order as protesters plan campus rally


The university has so far ignored the question of how it will enforce the order.

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A rally protesting against the ban will be held at the Deakin encampment on Wednesday night. There are also pro-Palestine protests happening in Melbourne’s CBD throughout the afternoon, including a student strike for Nakba Day at 2pm at the State Library.

The long-running pro-Palestine protests and university encampments have triggered a national debate about free speech and discrimination on campuses, and prompted counterprotests by supporters of Israel.

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler called on other universities to order protesters to leave, but lawyer Greg Barns said that “heavy-handed enforcement should be the very last resort” when it came to freedom of speech and the right to protest.

Leibler said the “decision by the Deakin encampment to defy university instructions is a line in the sand, dividing rule-of-law society and anarchic protesters”.

“We are confident that the state and federal governments will strongly encourage law-enforcement authorities to ensure that universities are fully supported if protesters don’t comply with university rules.”

A clash developed at a pro-Palestinian encampment at Monash University last Wednesday when pro-Israel supporters attempted to storm a stage where speeches were being conducted.

A clash developed at a pro-Palestinian encampment at Monash University last Wednesday when pro-Israel supporters attempted to storm a stage where speeches were being conducted.Credit: Justin McManus

Other universities have not followed Deakin’s lead so far, although Monash University is now doing student identification checks on protesters at its Clayton campus following Monday’s clash between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel supporters.

The University of Melbourne said it was “mindful of the effect of the ongoing encampment on our south lawn, one of the university’s major communal open spaces in Parkville, on all members of our university community”.

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RMIT said it was “implementing pre-emptive and proactive measures while members of the RMIT community exercise their right to protest”.

Duff said the Deakin protesters had received advice that their camp was legal.

Barns is the spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance and was behind a letter signed by hundreds of lawyers in November urging a ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank.

He said Deakin’s order for the disbandment of the students’ camp “appears to run contrary to its policy that freedom of speech by students is a ‘paramount value’ and its exercise not ‘unnecessarily burdened by restrictions or other burdens’ other than those imposed by law”.

“So, the decision to undermine that paramount value is very serious and could only be done if there was a proven threat to health, safety and wellbeing which the university claims is the reason.”

Barns said if Deakin had simply acted on complaints and not investigated them, or sought to negotiate with the protesters, then this was arguably unlawful.

“One might add that such heavy-handed tactics by university administrations using their legal powers are counterproductive. When it comes to freedom of speech and the right to protest, censoring it through heavy-handed enforcement should be the very last resort.”

Announcing the ban, Deakin’s deputy vice chancellor of university services, Kerrie Parker, said protesters had engaged in unacceptable behaviour that created an “impediment to the normal use and function of the campus”.

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“The right to freedom of speech does not extend to the establishment of unauthorised camps which pose hygiene and safety risks and restrict the access, availability and use of Deakin premises and facilities for the benefit of the Deakin community of users,” she said on Monday.

Meanwhile, police arrested two people on Wednesday morning after offices of the ABC in Southbank, Seven Network in Docklands and Deputy Premier Ben Carroll in Niddrie were vandalised. Protesters sprayed the ABC with fake blood and wrote: “The ABC enables genocide.”

In response, Carroll said hate had no place in Victoria and his staff were entitled to stay safe at work.

Premier Jacinta Allen said: “There is so much loss of life, there is so much grief, as a result of the conflict in the Middle East.

“Let’s not bring that grief to the streets of Melbourne. Let’s not add to the grief of so many in our community here.”

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