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Sydney University Liberal Club wages custody battle over Mon Droit

Imogen Harper reports the battle for custody of the University of Sydney’s right-wing rag.

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The outgoing executive of the Sydney University Liberal Club (SULC) has refused to hand over control of the newspaper Mon Droit, claiming it is an asset external to the club, despite receiving USU funding for its publication.

The 2015 executive (largely aligned with the ‘soft right’ of the Liberal party) lost control over the society at the recent AGM following sustained and well-documented factional fighting.

The Clubs and Societies program requires that all SULC assets be transferred to the current executive, and while the process of handing over all club property was delayed, Mon Droit was the only item to be claimed as “independent”. The dispute now involves the remaining physical copies of Mon Droit and administrative access to the website and Facebook page.

The claim was first made publicly on the Mon Droit Facebook page in August, days after the SULC AGM. The post states the paper is “proudly independent of the Sydney University Liberal Club and that its editorial line is not determined by that organisation’s executive” but rather that it is “the product of the initiative and passion of the Liberal students”.

The current managing editor of Mon Droit, Catherine Priestley, told Honi “the paper has continued to receive and publish submissions in the usual fashion” and that “as far as we are aware there is nothing in SULC’s constitution suggesting the Club or its Executive have any authority over the publication.” She understands “the paper’s founders William Dawes and Grace O’Brien always expected the publication to rely on the creative efforts of individual Liberal students… it was never to be merely a Club newsletter.”

The current administration unsurprisingly denies this. Current President Josh Crawford told Honi Mon Droit is the publication of the Sydney University Liberal Club… owned and operated by the Club since their inception.” The current executive is aligned with a competing “left” faction which splintered from the soft right.

David Hogan, a current member of the executive, made the claim “USU funding has been used on Mon Droit multiple times, hundreds of dollars worth.”

Priestley told Honi that Mon Droit had “received funding for our occasional print issues from a number of sources. Partial funding from the USU in the past has been secured through the acknowledgement of that contribution in the usual way within the publication”.

The University of Sydney Union President, Michael Rees, did not give comment on the funding status of Mon Droit, although he did say the issue had been brought to their attention and that they would investigate who had ownership of the paper.

Priestley told Honi that “even if the Club’s executive were not completely unrelated to the Mon Droit editorial team, we would be hesitant to rely on the current executive to ensure the paper remains accessible to all students” because of “the blatant exclusion of most Club members from events held by the Club after the recent AGM”.

This development adds to the controversy of the SULC executive election earlier this year, surrounded by allegations of factional stacking and other misconduct. The sentiments of Priestley align with Dawes’ outgoing comments at the AGM condemned the “toxic culture” created by the “wolf pack” within SULC, suggesting this “culture war” was the source of disagreement within SULC rather than ideology.