Christopher Pyne has condemned “self-indulgent” university students for jostling and intimidating Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
The Education Minister also implied Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was partly to blame for the aggressive student protests at the University of Sydney on Friday. Mr Pyne also accused the media of trying to “excuse the assaulting of the Foreign Minister”.
Video footage circulating online shows Ms Bishop and her security detail running up a flight of stairs, while angry students shove and shout at the Foreign Minister.
Angry reception: Julie Bishop at University of Sydney.
Mr Pyne suggested it was Mr Shorten's fiery post-budget speech on Thursday that stirred the students to intimidate Ms Bishop.
“Bill Shorten has been talking about wicked budgets and unconscionable behaviour, and trying to whip up a storm in the community,” the Education Minister told a media conference in Adelaide on Saturday.
If the protests are "an outcome of his behaviour, of what he has said, then he needs to come out and condemn it and put that beyond doubt,” Mr Pyne said.
Christopher Pyne: accused students of assaulting Julie Bishop. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
"Assaulting and jostling the Australian Foreign Minister” by the group of students was “unacceptable behaviour", Mr Pyne said.
Asked what he meant by “assault” given the students did not punch or hit Ms Bishop, the Education Minister said the legal definition of assault required only the feeling of being under threat.
Asked why Ms Bishop did not seem fazed by the jostling, Mr Pyne said: “Politicians don't want to let the students think that they are winning… but that doesn't make their behaviour unacceptable.”
“If it was a Labor female foreign minister who was being jostled by far-right students… we would expect that the leader of the opposition if it was a conservative… would support the condemnation of that behaviour,” he added.
Fairfax Media has approached Mr Shorten for comment.
Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen rejected Mr Pyne's comments, saying the Education Minister "needs to grow up".
"There’s no place for violent protests in Australia but violent protests (are) the fault of violent protesters," Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney. "For Christopher Pyne and the Liberal Party to try and make political points out of this is nothing short of pathetic."
Mr Bowen said Labor "of course" condemns violent protests and added he had been subjected to such outpourings.
"Not once would I dream of trying to blame the Liberal Party for it," he said. "For Christopher Pyne to try and deflect that issue and to try and somehow blame the Labor Party just shows how desperate this government has become."
Labor's education spokeswoman Kate Ellis also criticised the Sydney University protesters.
"I absolutely understand the anger that many students feel but I believe that that was an absolutely inappropriate and indeed a really ineffective way of trying to make their point," Ms Ellis told Sky News on Saturday.
"We don't ever want to see that kind of physical nature in political debate in this country," she added. "I think those scenes were deeply disappointing."
Ms Bishop was at Sydney University's MacLaurin Hall on Friday to announce a further 1000 students would be able to study overseas under new government funding, when she was confronted by about 20 angry protesters.
Ms Bishop's security detail and university guards quickly surrounded the minister and ushered her into the hall. They then shoved the students back from the hall entrance to keep them out.
Mr Pyne said the students were getting the “best deal in the OECD” and would earn much more over their lifetimes than those Australians who don't go to university. He said it was wrong of the students to protest against the Abbott government's policies. These include the controversial plan to remove caps on university funding, which has led to predictions of fees for some degrees soaring to more than $100,000.
“Those students at Sydney University, which is of course one of the premier universities in Australia, are really being extraordinarily self-indulgent,” Mr Pyne said.
With Saffron Howden