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Students and staff say no to the Robert Menzies Institute

Students gathered on South Lawn yesterday to protest the opening gala of the Liberal-backed think-tank Robert Menzies Institute (RMI).

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News Article

Students and staff say no to the Robert Menzies Institute

Students gathered on South Lawn yesterday to protest the opening gala of the Liberal-backed think-tank Robert Menzies Institute (RMI).

Students gathered on South Lawn yesterday to protest the opening gala of the Liberal-backed think-tank Robert Menzies Institute (RMI).

Spearheaded by the Stop the Robert Menzies Institute campaign, the demonstration consisted of students and staff, drawing the attention of security and police.

Protesters rallied primarily against the Institute’s links to the Liberal party. Continual chants of “Fuck the LNP” reverberated across Parkville campus as students banged on doors and windows, encircling the perimeter of the Old Quad building where the gala was taking place.

Security guards held back protestors from entering the building. Graduate student Branden Michaels clung to the wooden door of the building's back entrance while squished against a security guard. Michaels characterised the opening of the Institute as a “backdoor deal” that took advantage of the pandemic and its impact on student activism. When asked whether he would continue to protest against the Institute's operations, he replied: “We’ll be here when Term Two [sic] starts.”

The event saw an early finish due to safety concerns with attendants of the opening gala reportedly advised to stay inside the building. However, one attendant approached a group of protestors and remarked “go home, lefties”. Julian Reeves—a 1987 graduate of the University of Melbourne and attendant of the gala—spoke with Farrago on his concern for the older participants of the gala; He cited similarities to the protesting and the United States Capitol riot.


Gala attendants leaving the event. Photograph provided by Vivienne Tetaz.

A gala attendant who wishes to remain anonymous was seen leaving the Old Quad ushering two older women. When asked why he thought students were protesting, he reported he was “confused” and that he thought that “the use of megaphones led to a lack of communication”.

Opposition to the Institute stems from concerns over its academic integrity. Although RMI Chief Executive Officer Georgina Downer asserts that the Institute is “non-partisan” and exists “to foster a new field for research and inquiry”, an open letter by the Stop the Robert Menzies Institute claims that “the MRC is a conservative stronghold bankrolled by the Liberal Party and big business”.

Criticism has also been levied at the Institute’s funding. The Federal Government’s $7 million grant to finance the Institute and restore parts of the Old Quad comes at a time where the University has slashed jobs and raised the price of many degrees.

The Federal Government’s $7 million grant to finance the Institute and restore parts of the Old Quad comes at a time where the University has slashed jobs and raised the price of many degrees.
Student protesting against the Institute holding a sign that reads "OUR EDUCATION IS NOT FOR PROFIT". Photograph provided by Vivienne Tetaz.

“We’re angry that the University sees it fit to cut hundreds of staff jobs during a pandemic whilst spending millions of dollars to establish the Institute,” said incoming University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Education (Public Affairs) Office Bearers Benjamin Jarick and Ruby Craven.

While the RMI has now officially opened, protestors feel the fight is not over.

“We might not have a cushy museum or a hub for intellectual discourse, but we’ve numbers, megaphones, and a lot to say,” said Art History tutor Elyssia Bugg.

Farrago reached out to the Institute and University for a comment, but did not receive a reply.

 
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