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Liberal Club’s membership dissolved by USU, AGM postponed

Mary Ward and Andrew Bell report

The Sydney University Liberal Club’s (SULC) membership list has been dissolved and its AGM postponed by the University of Sydney Union (USU) following sustained in-fighting between club factions led by the President Will Dawes and Secretary Josh Crawford.

The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the society was scheduled for next Wednesday, but has been delayed until after ODay next semester, following a determination handed down by the USU Board after an in camera discussion at their monthly meeting on Friday.

Any ACCESS card holder who wishes to join or remain a member of the society will be required to attend the SULC ODay stall in person to secure their membership.

A USU casual employee – accompanied by a security guard – will administer SULC’s ODay stall and be in charge of taking registrations. According to the ruling, seen by Honi, the club will be required to fund the expense of the casual worker and the security guard.

The purpose of the AGM was to elect the executive for the following year, which would largely determine the balance of power between competing groups within the club for the following year.

A conflict arose between Dawes and Crawford following OWeek regarding the proper method of counting the club’s members ahead of the AGM.

While Dawes wanted the club’s OWeek list of sign ups to be used, Crawford was advocating for a new approach, which would allow for ACCESS card holders who had attended at least three meetings to vote. In the circumstance that fewer than three meetings had been held, as is the case this year, Crawford’s approach would acquire attendance at all meetings preceding the AGM.

The disagreement has essentially resulted in two separate groups of SULC members being created: those who support Dawes (and will be supporting failed USU candidate Dom Bondar for the club’s presidency) and those who wish to see Crawford jump from Secretary to President at the eventual AGM.

The two groups have been recorded on separate and conflicting mailing lists of “SULC members” held by Dawes and Crawford, with each using their own mailing lists to communicate with those who they consider to be members.

Dawes told Honi he sent out an email to “all [members] that [he has] the contact details of” on Friday evening describing the situation.

“The Club’s activities will continue as usual and a new AGM date will be set for early next semester,” the email read. “The University of Sydney Union is doing its best to find a solution which addresses the concerns myself and many other Club executive and members have as to the integrity of the membership list.”

However, there seems to be disagreement amongst the SULC executive as to what the wiping of their membership will actually allow the club to do until a new AGM is held.

“My understanding from other executive members who have spoke with C&S is that the process will be that the club is going to be temporarily suspended until it holds its AGM next semester,” a member of the executive told Honi, seemingly contradicting the information Dawes sent out to members.

When asked by Honi, Dawes confirmed his understanding of events was identical to the message he sent to members, saying the club’s activities would continue despite it not having a valid membership list.

SULC has been plagued with dysfunction this semester, following a falling out between the Liberal Party’s centre-right faction (which traditionally controls SULC, and of which Dawes is a member) and Alex Dore, who counts Crawford among his supporters, after Dore was elected as NSW Young Liberal President at the organisation’s executive elections in February. After leaving the centre-right with Dore, Honi understands Crawford has not been accepted by any faction, but Honi has been told by centre-right sources that they suspect he and Dore are working with the party’s left (of which Crawford’s mother, Catherine Cusack MLC, is a member) to control SULC.

The club did not hold a Ordinary Meeting until Week 8 due to continual disagreements between Dawes and Crawford. USU President and member of Labor Right faction, Student Unity, Alisha Aitken-Radburn was brought in to assist the meeting’s administration.

Honi has been told the split resulted in Crawford and Dawes holding separate members’ drinks at the start of semester.

Some SULC members have suggested that Crawford was attempting to stack the AGM with his new membership system, stating that non-students and even Liberal Party staffers have been purchasing ACCESS cards and attending meetings, presumably with the intent of voting for Crawford as president at the AGM.

SRC Councillor and member of SULC David Hogan (who told Honi he had “tried to remain friendly with both [Dawes and Crawford]” during the dispute), said he had definitely observed an increase in non-USyd students attending SULC meetings over the year, although he “could not say” if this was a stacking measure.

Hogan indicated that it was likely both sides of the dispute would tightly contest the sign-up process at ODay. “Both sides will be getting as many people to the stall as possible and try to sign them up and get a numerical advantage for the AGM,” he told Honi.

While Dawes did not comment on whether he suspected stacking had occurred during the year, he said he was “incredibly concerned” about stacking behaviour likely to occur at the ODay stall, adding that he condemns such behaviour “unequivocally”.