Not all quiet on the Liberal front
WORDS BY WHITNEY DUAN
Members and executives of the Sydney University Liberal Club (SULC) are being systematically rejected from the society’s events as a broader conflict within NSW Young Liberals is causing the club to split.
A member of the SULC executive, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that during events held throughout this semester, fellow executives in support of SULC President William Dawes have used various measures to tactically block SULC Secretary Josh Crawford and his supporters from attending events in an attempt in stamp out Crawford’s support to be elected the SULC next President.
On Wednesday 6 April, a scene unfolded at the entrance of SULC’s Annual Howard Debating Cup in the Rare Books section of Fisher Library when Crawford was blocked by security from entering the venue. However, he was eventually allowed in when MLC Scott Farlow, for whom Crawford is a staffer, spoke to Dawes after hearing his employee was being denied entry to the event.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham attended the event along with special guests Federal Senator George Brandis, NSW MP Pru Goward and journalist Ben Fordham. Private security was hired by SULC for the event, not just to ensure the safety of the guests, but also to to keep unwanted opposition out from the likes of the protesting members of the Education Action Group and the Socialist Alternative.
Like other executives of SULC, Crawford had purchased a ticket online for the Howard Cup, before it was refunded by those overlooking the event’s guest list, including Dawes.
When questioned about entry-vetting, President William Dawes denied any executives were barred from attending the event. However, those SULC members who had their tickets refunded didn’t attempt to enter the event.
This followed similar instances at SULC’s New Member Night on 10 March held at Newtown’s Rowda Ya Habibi Restaurant, and a parliamentary networking event, at which Crawford and his supporters were denied access or excluded from being invited.
While this may appear to be a simple case of factional squabbling over the election of SULC’s next president, further investigation has revealed that the conflict stems from a clash within the NSW Young Liberals (YL), a political organisation directly affiliated with SULC.
Here is where this gets complicated, so we’ve made an infographic to help you understand how the conflict in NSW YL is related to the split in SULC:
A source from within the organisation has told Pulp that a factional civil war is being fought, as Federal MPs and MLCs are successfully stamping out support for President of NSW YL Alex Dore across local YL branches in a bid for control over pre-selections in a Federal Election year - with SULC’s own warring factions split on either side of this division. After being elected to the YL Presidency in August 2015 by the largest margin in 10 years, Dore, who is also the immediate past President of SULC, had accumulated a strong influence within local branches large enough to threaten senior party level politicians. By seizing control of Dore’s local branches with the help of staffers involved in NSW YL and university Liberal clubs, MPs can ensure the branches’ delegates to vote favourably in pre-selections.
Conservative radio broadcaster, Alan Jones, a known supporter of Dore, suggested on his 2GB show on 7 April that a number of MPs and MLCs affiliated within the soft-right faction have instructed staffers to employ bullying tactics to gain control of branches. Jones condemned the MPs’ actions, calling for the party to suspend or expel those involved.
Another source within the NSW YL, claims support for Dore has dropped below 20% after MPs sent taxpayer-funded staffers, many of whom are members of NSW YL, to branch meetings in an effort to swing votes against Dore. Instead, soft-right YL members are throwing their support behind the organisation’s Vice President Dean Shachar who has the support of MP Hawke.
Just earlier this month on 6 April, MP staffers were sent to the Earlwood-Kingsgrove YL branch meeting to roll its local President through stacking. The meeting of the branch, which was still loyal to Dore’s leadership, was attended by SULC Treasurer Dimitry Palmer, a staffer to soft-right Federal Liberal MP Alex Hawke, who assisted in attempting to flip its membership against the NSW YL President. Sources within NSW YL predict Dore will lose the battle for YL branch control within 3 months.
At the USyd level, Crawford, Vice-President Jennifer Zin and some of the SULC executive are loyal to Dore, while Dawes and the remaining executive, including Vice-President Dom Bondar, support MP Hawke. As a result, Dawes is backing Bondar as SULC’s next President against Crawford’s campaign for the position, dividing club members and executives on the issue - a microcosm of the broader factional conflict in NSW YL.
During OWeek, stall-holders surrounding the SULC stand witnessed an altercation between Dawes and Crawford, when the President demanded to be the only person privy to membership lists, despite it being Crawford’s responsibility as Secretary to oversee membership. Campus Security was called to break up the conflict.
Our source on the club executive says Dawes hasn’t called any formal executive meetings this year, keeping those who oppose him on the executive in the dark about plans.
"He’s violating club constitution,” the source says. “Not to mention countless other [Clubs & Societies] regulations.”
Entry to SULC events has not just been denied to Crawford and executives; sources from other Liberal factions have suggested that vetting of students from events has been a long held practice to rid the soft-right affiliated club of political enemies from the moderate-left and hard-right Liberal factions.
Unlike previous years, this year the Howard Debating Cup was not advertised on social media or SULC’s website, and was instead exclusively promoted via the club’s email newsletter with a password-protected link to purchase tickets.
A number of card-carrying Liberal Party members affiliated with the moderate-left and hard-right factions reported that their tickets to the Cup had been refunded without explanation, and that they were unable to re-purchase new tickets regardless of their availability. These reports came from not only ACCESS members and USyd students, but from the wider Liberal community including representatives from other universities who were invited to debate at the Cup but were excluded based on factional affiliation.
Despite the political nature of the club, systematic discrimination of students based on political agenda is a violation of the USU’s Clubs & Societies Regulations, which state that all events must be open to the entire membership of the society, or entire USU membership.
An ex-C&S committee member who wishes to remain anonymous reports the committee has, in previous years, received complaints about SULC which have been investigated to no avail. “C&S shut their eyes,” the source told Pulp.
Leaked emails from 5 May 2014 between committee members show a complainant’s request for a meeting with C&S being ignored. A NSW YL member who was sent by another university to debate at the Howard Cup wrote to members of the committee after their $80 ticket was refunded without explanation. In the emails, the complainant chased up on the requested meeting three times without success or explanation from the committee. In the response emails, C&S Manager Pamela Wade stated that the 2014 Howard Debating Cup was a closed “invitation only” event, password protected for guests. She claimed the complainant should not have had access to the password to purchase tickets for the Facebook promoted event, despite this password being publicised by SULC executives on Facebook.
After their ticket was refunded without reason, the complainant purchased an ACCESS card to be able to buy door tickets on the night, only to be refused by security.
C&S minutes from 2014 show the club has also run into trouble by picking and choosing their membership based on their political affiliations, rather than adhering to the democratic system specified by the C&S Regulations Handbook. Minutes from 13 May show a discussion where executives from the Conservative Club accused SULC of not being open to all.
“[Conservative Club executive Chaneg Torres] says...many people do not feel they have a home in the Liberal Club...because they are simply barred from membership,” the minutes read. ”People are only allowed membership if the President co-signs their receipt as per their constitution. He says if you come from the wrong faction or they simply do not like you the receipt will not be signed and you therefore cannot become a member.”
The minutes also indicate another Conservative Club executive, Alessandro Cowley, purchased a membership for $2 to SULC during OWeek, but that his membership had not been accepted.
In the minutes, Wade expresses concerns that there is not enough support for Torres’ claims and needs a complaint to be brought forward before the matter can be investigated, despite having received a complaint only the week before.
Indeed, SULC’s constitutional “anti-stacking measures”, introduced in 2011, specify that new membership must be co-signed by either the President or Secretary, making it impossible for some students to join the society. These tactics however do not comply with the list of C&S approved measures that clubs are allowed to implement for anti-stacking reasons.
In response to an email Pulp sent to SULC President William Dawes concerning the club’s entry vetting of non-soft-right affiliated students, Dawes wrote:
“Factionalism is not a concern of the Sydney University Liberal Club, its members or its executive. There are no factions dividing the membership of the Liberal Club.”
This statement certainly rings true since SULC has ensured that its entire membership is made up of soft-right students, or those who identify with soft-right values.
When Pulp asked the C&S office and committee to respond to their lack of disciplinary action against SULC, the organisation wrote:
“The C&S Office and Committee rejects the notion that it has turned a blind eye to improper practices allegedly perpetrated by a club in our program. The C&S Office and Committee take very seriously any complaints made by club members and investigates them fully. The Office and Committee are aware that from time to time certain clubs will push the boundaries. Any sort of exclusion – be it branch stacking, rescinding of invitations, unrequested refunding of memberships, or otherwise - is anathema to the ethos of the C&S program which has inclusion for all members at its heart. It is for this reason that the Committee has, over the past several years, introduced new regulations to reduce the risk of this kind of behaviour. We urge any member who feels that they have been unfairly treated by their club to contact the C&S Office at any time.”
USU President Alisha Aitken-Radburn added:
“Disputes within clubs are a regular occurrence, but the present concern is that disagreements don't move towards bullying and possible harassment. The exclusion of Executives or new members to club events is certainly out of the ordinary, and I'm aware that C&S is currently communicating with SULC with a goal of upholding the Union's commitment to inclusivity”.
With the SULC membership throwing their support behind Dom Bondar for his upcoming Union Board election, it is unlikely Josh Crawford will be elected President at SULC’s Annual General Meeting later this year. Similarly, NSW YL President Alex Dore, being locked out by his faction, won’t be preselected for state or local seats in the next 3 to 5 years. Meanwhile, in more than just the soft-right faction, Liberal MPs continue to successfully stamp out support for their competitors in order secure a power base of branches to control local, state and federal preselections. The outcomes of current Liberal preselections have been the upshot of months of plotting, stacking and bullying, with factions continuously splitting and dissolving in attempts to gain power.
And so the cycle goes.