More than 1000 Victorian students have skipped school to rally in central Melbourne in support of a free Palestine.
The children left school at lunchtime on Thursday, making their way to the steps of Flinders Street Station and unfurling a large banner.
Rally organisers encouraged the demonstrators to make their way onto a major intersection, blocking cars and trams.
“We must demand Israel ends its genocide in Gaza,” one speaker told the crowd.
“We demand the government cut all political, economic and military ties.”
The crowd then marched along Swanston Street and into shopping centre Melbourne Central, where they staged a sit-in.
The demonstration came as the Melbourne electorate office of federal National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Bill Shorten was splashed in red paint and graffiti reading “dial down the apartheid Bill”.
Shorten suspected Thursday morning’s incident was in response to his plea for protesters to “dial down the degree of aggro”, after bloodied replicas of corpses in Gaza were left outside the offices of federal politicians last week.
He believes it was vandalised by the same group.
“Obviously someone took offence at me saying we should promote social cohesion and dial down the aggro in the confrontation,” Shorten told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
Speaking about the student strike, Shorten said while he understood the merit of protests, the world needed more people with an education instead of missing school.
Federal Education Minister Jason Clare echoed the sentiment.
“There is no make-ups or catchups or redoes,” he told Nine’s Today program.
“If students aren’t at school then it will be considered an absence.”
Victorian Education Minister Ben Carroll also made a last-ditch plea for students to stay in class, saying it was the safest and best place for them to deal with any vicarious trauma.
“Any protest needs to be peaceful,” he said.
Israeli forces have been at war in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip after a bloody incursion on October 7.
Rally organiser Ivy, 16, believes the war is unjust and said it was the latest in a “long line of atrocities” committed by Israel towards Palestine.
“We have been contacted by students from dozens of schools across Melbourne and Victoria who are walking out to demand justice for Palestine,” she said.
The organisers accused the federal government of doing nothing to defend the human rights of Palestinians and demanded an immediate end to the war, for Israeli troops to leave the occupied territories and an end to military aid to Israel.
Ivy said they wouldn’t take instructions from the “hypocritical” major parties.
The Melbourne rally is one in a series of national student strikes for Palestinians.
In Adelaide, pupils will also hold a demonstration at parliament house on Thursday. Students in Sydney, Wollongong and Byron Bay will turn out on Friday.
NSW Education Minister Prue Car said it was unacceptable for students to skip school to take part.
“We understand people feel passionately about a range of things but you need to be at school,” she told Sydney radio 2GB.
The protest, to be held at Sydney Town Hall, is being jointly organised by high school and Sydney University activists.
Car said the university students should “stay in their lane” and leave high schoolers to focus on their studies.