NSW Police have arrested one protester at the University of Sydney and slapped nine more with $1,000 fines after they staged a socially-distanced protest against staff cuts, course cuts and changes to uni fees.

Several demonstrations appeared across the campus at midday on Wednesday, each making sure to stay in groups of under 19 people – the legal limit for such gatherings. However, around 100 police officers, many in riot gear, ended up dispersing and arresting protesters.

“The small groups all had distinct political intents and we don’t believe it contravened the meeting for a common-purpose requirement,” SRC President Liam Donohoe told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“It is genuinely disappointing that we haven’t been able to articulate our opinions. Some of us have come from classes which have over 30 people in them. We want to talk about that and we have been arrested and fined.”

One of the most prominent issues was USyd’s plan to cut up to 30% of full-time staff in some faculties, which it says is due to financial strains of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, staff and students have argued that the university is exaggerating it financial difficulties in order to move ahead with the mass casualisation of staff.

As the students were protesting against different issues in different groups, police decided that their collective presence (no matter now socially-distanced) constituted a single protest, and therefore it was breaching the public health order.

“I was simply trying to leave, and I was chanting while doing so,” one of the students who was fined told campus newspaper Honi Soit.

The 34-year-old man who was arrested at the protests was “given several warnings and directions to leave the area,” according to a NSW Police spokesperson.

He was taken back to Newtown Police Station and will appear in court on Thursday.

It’s not the first time police have shut down these kinds of protests, with similar incidents occurring in July and August.

Image: Getty Images / Jim Feng