Police give uni students deadline to evacuate protest encampment

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Pro-Palestine student encampments at university campuses across the country - like this one at Melbourne's Monash University - continue to be ordered to shut down.

In a statement on its website page dedicated to sharing an overview of the Australian National University’s (ANU) response, services, support and FAQs regarding the pro-Palestine student encampment protest in the Kambri precinct within the tertiary institution, ANU says it “is committed to free speech and academic freedom and has a long history of student activism”. 

“All students and staff are entitled to exercise their right to free speech and protest at ANU, as long as this is in accordance with Australian law, the University’s code of conduct and is safe for our entire campus and community,” the statement says.

But a message from the university’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Christopher Price announced the news that students were directed to vacate the site yesterday – and have been given until 12 midday, 28 May to do so.

An excerpt from the communication, addressed to “Dear colleagues”, states that the protest site “poses an unacceptable safety risk”.

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The full statement is available here.  

Uni says safety of residential students impacted

One reason given for the evacuation order is that “the encampment is occupying the primary emergency evacuation site for the large number of people living in, working in, and visiting Kambri”.   

“A real-time fire alarm evacuation of Fenner Hall and Kambri Cultural Centre last week demonstrated that alternative evacuation sites previously established were inadequate.  This failure was immediately reported to university authorities and an investigation identified an unacceptable safety risk.  Since then, we have mitigated this risk by placing additional security personnel around the site to help manage any evacuation that might be necessary, but this is not a long-term solution,” the ANU statement says.

 “We respect the right of all members of our community to protest, provided it is safe, respectful and lawful. To facilitate ongoing protest, if that is what members of our community wish to undertake, ANU has offered alternative sites for that purpose. This includes the University Avenue lawns near North Road and the lawns outside the Chancelry. These sites are appropriate and safe places for protest activity, neither being primary or secondary evacuation points for University buildings.”

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The encampment participants have so far chosen not to vacate the site, despite “a lawful direction from the University that they should do so”. 

“As a result, responsibility for the safe clearing of the site has been assumed by ACT Policing.”

The instructions to dismantle the encampment follow other student protests at universities across Australia being ordered to shut down.

The political demands of the student encampments are diverse and varied, but broadly focus on urging universities to:

Adelaide University encampment protestors say “we won’t stop fighting”

The students who have maintained an encampment at Adelaide University since 1 May 2024 issued the following announcement on 27 May, ahead of their own encampment ending.

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“We’re wrapping up the encampment but continuing our campaign for divestment. The uni is yet to meet with us about our demands. We won’t stop fighting. Thank you for all the support from the community, we hope you’ll continue fighting alongside us for a free Palestine.”

Evacuation orders part of “immediate action”

“This is an intolerable safety risk for the university, and we’ve taken immediate action,” says ANU deputy vice-chancellor Grady Venville.

When asked if protesters would be forcibly removed if they refused to follow the evacuation orders, she says she “hoped it wouldn’t come to that”.

While other Australian universities have threatened police action, police have not yet been called on to remove students from campus encampments. 

ANU Student Association (ANUSA) President Phoenix O’Neill says ANUSA completely opposes the “use of force to move the encampment on by police or security”, adding that “police presence at a peaceful protest, and on campus” is an “uncalled for escalation” of the situation which is both “unnecessary and harmful to students” impeding on their freedom of speech and right to protest.

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ANUSA continues to urge the ANU to engage with the encampments “reasonable and ethical demands” in a productive manner. They call “for a peaceful resolution and to avoid harm to students and other members of the ANU community” 

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live