It was business as usual at the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Sydney University Liberal Club (SULC), with sitting president and moderate liberal Jack O’Brien re-elected without contest from the soft-right faction of the party. The candidates listed on the how-to-vote pamphlet O’Brien distributed at the beginning of the meeting were also all elected without contest.
The meeting, however, was not completely devoid of tension, with William Jefferies of the soft-right standing up to deliver a sustained criticism of SULC during the general business segment of the meeting. In his speech, Jefferies addressed comments made earlier by O’Brien in his president’s report regarding “a certain group of people who have sought to undermine our objectives.” Jefferies accused SULC of lacking transparency and being exclusive, noting that the meeting had been the shortest AGM since 1933.
“Why are the moderates here voting for an [executive] that is purposely going to exclude them from the club… the soft right are demonised when they are actually great, principled, ideologically-driven people,” said Jefferies.
O’Brien also responded to other allegations made by Jefferies of SULC not giving all its members notice of events – including the AGM – stating that it was due to a technical error. O’Brien also defended the Club against accusations of exclusivity, stating that SULC actually had not held any events so far this year, but that all are welcome to attend events held by the Young Liberals.
“[The] Young Liberals hold an event, it’s a private event, Will [Jefferies] has as much a right to be there as he does at my birthday party,” O’Brien stated.
Honi reported in February that Jeffries was allegedly involved in a push to stack SULC membership during Welcome Week, along with other members of the campus soft-right faction including Alex Fitton and Bailey Broom. The group reportedly gave St Paul’s College “freshers” $2 coins to pay the Club’s sign-up fees, in the hope of challenging the moderate, “Alex Dore” faction. Both Fitton and Jeffries denied being involved in the alleged stacking.
Although there was no formal challenge for the SULC presidency this AGM, the club’s leadership has long been contested by different factions. The soft-right faction, described as hardline libertarians, held the presidency from 2014 to 2015. In 2016, Josh Crawford beat Dom Bondar for the presidency, returning power to the moderate faction where it has remained ever since.
Crawford returned tonight to speak to the nominations of several members up for SULC life-membership status, including David Hogan, who he praised for bringing in certain groups on campus which SULC was not engaging well with – “business and college students.”
Other mentions were given to the successes of the club over the past year, including hosting Bettina Arndt and her controversial talk entitled ‘Is there a rape crisis on campuses?’, which O’Brien commended as ”a really great opportunity to build [SULC’s] profile so that people know what we are doing.”
Liam Thorne is a current member of Sydney Grassroots.