Sydney squatters' rooftop protest over cost of housing

Riot police stand by as the students stage their protest at St Michael's College in Sydney

Stephanie Gardiner | September 16, 2011


Police have arrested seven people after squatters stood on the rooftop of an empty Sydney college building to protest against their eviction.

The group said they were protesting on top of the empty St Michael's College, owned by the Catholic Church, on City Road near Sydney University, to draw attention to the lack of affordable housing around the city.

They believe they had a right to live there and were kicked out unfairly.


Ashwyn Falkingham, a 27-year-old University of NSW renewable energy engineering student, said the group had been squatting in the college for some weeks and were hoping to open it up as a social centre to offer services to the community.

Mr Falkingham said the group were kicked out about 11am yesterday and climbed on the roof this morning with signs saying "Housing is a right, not a privilege" and "Occupy and resist".


Protester gets carried away ... by the police


"It's about unaffordability of housing in Sydney and inaccessibility for students in particular and for working people and for people out of work," Mr Falkingham said.

"We're all here basically. We just want to live is the crux of the whole thing.

"There are perfectly good buildings all around Sydney and we get kicked out of them almost daily.


The squatters protest on the roof of the derelict St Michael's College in Sydney. Photo: Nick Moir


"We get kicked out, we move on, we get kicked out, and then we see those buildings sit empty and sit idle for another two years, another three years, another five years, perhaps.

"It's getting to the point where we just wonder why is there no discussion about this ... why is no one hearing the perfectly sensible proposals that we're putting forward?

"Our original hope was that we could negotiate in good faith with the church.

"Cardinal [George] Pell is making a few people homeless tonight."

Mr Falkingham said one of his friends had been arrested by police in the park across the road as she tried to approach the college in support.

A NSW Police spokeswoman said police were conducting an operation to remove people who gained unauthorised access to the building.

Police said they removed seven people from the building about 2.30pm and one woman was arrested earlier for offensive language.

A police spokesman said Newtown officers and specialist units were sent to the building because of concerns for the squatters’ safety.

"Certainly there were concerns, first of all, for their safety because of the structural soundness of the building," he told AAP.

"And individuals concerned may have rigged up electricity. And also the fact that they are trespassing."

The group will be taken to Newtown police station to be interviewed.

Dale Mills, a Sydney-based solicitor who has been in contact with members of the protest group, said riot squad officers, police rescue and members of the dog squad were present.

"I thought it was a very disproportionate police response," Mr Mills said.

He said he was also concerned that about half of the riot squad officers did not appear to be wearing their identification badges.

NSW Police and the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney have been approached for comment.

- with AAP